Opinions: Should the Pacers Keep Frank Vogel?

The Indiana Pacers head into the offseason with many questions after a relatively successful end to the 2010-11 season culminating with a first round playoff loss to the Chicago Bulls. Larry Bird’s future is about to be decided after he meets with owner Herb Simon. The tide has turned and most experts are projecting Bird to return to the team. That means the next big question is should the Pacers keep interim coach Frank Vogel?

Vogel got a lot of love nationally throughout the Bulls series. In fact, a Facebook page has sprung up that has become a campaign headquarters of sort for Vogel. It seems that mainstream thinking is that the 37-year-old coach has done more than enough to return to the blue and gold. Here’s a sampling of the some of those comments.

Chris Mannix from SI had this to say:

It’s true, Bird will have options. The pool of head coaching candidates is a deep one. He could go for the veteran hand [Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman, Mike Brown], the rising star [Mike Malone, Mike Budenholzer, Kelvin Sampson] or the experienced assistant [Lawrence Frank, Mike Woodson, Dwane Casey]. He could tap into the TV booth [Kevin McHale, Mark Jackson] or dip into the college ranks.

His choices are good. But there is one that stands out: Vogel.

Mannix then argues why Vogel should be retained:

“He simplified things, which was good for that team,” said an Eastern Conference executive. “He was always prepared and the players responded to him.”

There’s something else Bird will have to consider: Money. The Pacers ranked 27th in Forbes’ most recent team valuations; the publication called Indiana “among the most troubled organizations in the NBA.” It attracted an NBA-low 13,538 fans per game last season, the fifth straight year it’s ranked in the bottom five in attendance.

Why is that important? Because experienced coaches like Van Gundy, Adelman or Brown could command between $3 and $5 million per season, a price tag the Pacers are unlikely to pay. Even Frank and Woodson made in excess of $2 million in their last coaching stops. Indiana won’t get Vogel for less than $1 million, but entering a potentially lockout-shortened season, it might not have to pay much more than that, either.

Indeed, reasons not to retain Vogel are few and far between. Indiana has a pretty good thing going. It’s core group — Hansbrough, George, Hibbert, Darren Collison and Danny Granger — is 28 or younger and under the team’s control for at least the next two seasons. They will lop some $30 million off the cap this summer and Bird has made it clear that if another team is looking to sell a star, he’s interested in buying.

Vogel has a rapport with his players. They trust him, believe in him. And he believes in them. On his way to dinner with his coaching staff Thursday night, Vogel’s mind was already at work with ways to improve the team next season.

Meanwhile, Rob Mahoney of The New York Times NBA Blog Off the Dribble had this to say:

This series was marked by not only (Paul) George’s true arrival on the N.B.A. scene after a rocky rookie season, but also that of Frank Vogel, the Pacers’ interim coach for 38 games. Everything that George accomplished in this series was possible because of his coach’s insight, preparation and audacity.

Vogel had the nerve to allow George, a rookie swingman who had played 61 games as a pro, and started just 19 times, to defend Rose, the league’s likely most valuable player. More important, Vogel didn’t overreact to Rose’s 39-point and 36-point games — both Pacer losses – to start the series, as he stuck to the game plan that had given his team a fighting chance.

Desperation can act as a siren’s call to some, but Vogel was having none of it. Four of the games in this series ended in a coin flip as a result of Vogel’s strategic commitment, a great triumph for a No. 8 seed contending with what many thought to be the best team in the league.

Indiana’s players deserve credit for their effort and execution throughout the series, but Vogel proved himself to be a resourceful coach who doesn’t just put his players in position to succeed but also discovers new avenues to success.

In game five of the Bulls series, current TNT NBA analyst and former Phoenix Suns President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Steve Kerr used his forum to say this:

“It’s a no-brainer to re-sign (interim coach) Frank Vogel,” Kerr said. “They play hard, they play a lot of people and they play with a lot of energy.”

Eric Freeman of Yahoo! Sports Ball Don’t Lie had this to say:

So it stands to reason that Vogel and the Pacers would like to remove the “interim” tag from his title. And that is exactly what’s likely to happen soon.

All parties want this to happen — Vogel, the front office, the players, and the fans — which means a deal will almost certainly get done soon. Vogel deserves it, too. He made the Pacers relevant and exciting again when they had been punchlines for several seasons. That’s no small feat.

However, it’s important to note that Vogel is also a free agent. If a deal doesn’t get done soon, it’s possible to imagine another team with a vacancy — like, say, the Rockets or Warriors — making a gigantic offer for Vogel’s services. That might be seen as poor form, considering the Pacers are Vogel’s team right now, but no one ever said finding a good coach was a moral pursuit.

Yet that course of events would be unlikely. Expect Vogel on the sidelines next season and several more.

Ok… back to reality.

Look, I think Vogel did a good job with this team. He will probably be the coach next year. I have not seen anyone credible make a strong argument otherwise. There’s no denying the fact that he got the Pacers to the playoffs. That’s something that Jim O’Brien could not do in his tenure.

However, let’s interrupt the euphoria for a moment to ask a few tough questions.

Is the 20-18 finish to the season just a short-term bounce that was not an accurate representation of Vogel’s abilities?

The offense that we saw down the stretch consisted of a few very simple plays and became easy to defend down the stretch of tight games. Does Vogel have a real, cohesive offense that he will install for next year?

What defensive philosophy is Vogel going to adhere to that will best utilize the players on the roster?

Can Vogel be critical of players that don’t perform in big situations? For instance, when Roy Hibbert is close to a no show in four of five playoff games maybe the positive reinforcement simply isn’t working. Would Vogel be willing to jump on Hibbert if that’s what it takes to get him right?

I really think the answers to these questions are more important than the short-term excitement created by the competitive series with the Bulls. The reality is that if Vogel is hired we won’t know the answers to any of these questions until next season… but that doesn’t mean that you don’t ask the questions during his interview.

Topics: Frank Vogel, Herb Simon, Larry Bird

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  • mellifluous

    3 things jump out to me:

    1. I had to laugh that Kelvin Sampson was mentioned as a possible candidate. It really wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a decent NBA coach someday, but it’s not going to be in Indiana.

    2. I agree with you that Vogel’s offense was terrible.

    3. He was smart enough not to play Hibbert when he was crappy against the Bulls. I think that’s a good sign for the Pacers, if not for Hibbert sense I think that was the beginning of O’Brien’s decline (Roy’s crappy play, followed by Roy getting less minutes, followed by even crappier play, followed by losing).

  • Paul

    I am impressed with Vogel, especially what he did to Rose. Except for the last game, George did a good job on Rose defensively. I would say that Vogel is a good choice for the Pacers should they decide keep him. I get the feeling given an offseason, Vogel can develop the offense better. I feel that he can drive everyone to play better. Granger played the best I’ve seen him in the series. Of course they have to work on the 4th quarter execution. I feel if the Pacers get someone else, that will be fine too. I just feel that Vogel is a better choice.

  • isuandy

    They better not even consider Kelvin Sampson… that man is HATED in large portions of Indiana… if they hired him to coach the Pacers a lot of Hoosiers would never again go to watch the Pacers play

  • Jeremy

    Pacers haven’t had a winning record in what, 4 years? Vogel is 20-18, that’s good enough to give him a shot at a full season. In the east, being up over .500 might get a 5-6 spot in next year’s playoffs, and a chance to win a series. Keep moving forward.

  • Alex Yovanovich

    Jeremy,

    I agree with your analysis of the Eastern Conference, but with more than $30 million in cap room and all of our starters locked up I don’t think Herb Simon is hoping the Pacers can get the sixth seed. With Orlando’s recent swoon — probably self-inflicted by making too many bad deals — the Pacers want a shot at the top half of the East along with Chicago, Boston and Miami. Is Vogel the coach to get us to that level?

    Alex

  • Caleb Howard

    I think this team could really be something special if Vogel is signed as the head coach and here are some reasons why. He is young and can relate to players, the players respond to his positive attitude and I believe he can get hard on them if he needs to. If we keep our core together with Vogel this team could grow together the next few years and become an elite team in the playoffs. There are obviously things that need to be done with the money we have this off-season, but hiring a new coach isn’t one of them. I can’t wait to see what this team becomes and when we finally shut those Bulls fans up and we are the elite team in the East.

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  • Peter

    Sorry to be the voice of dissention, but I do not believe Vogel should be brought back. Right now I believe fans are caught up in the moment. Furthermore, the author’s citing lack of credible sources otherwise can be made against him. Media personel including former players as cited in this article supporting Vogel to me are not credible either, because their job is to make comments from afar and within the moment.

    I am not here to bash Vogel. There are many things I do like about Vogel, e.g. his calm demeanor. While I do believe he deserves a shot at a head coaching job, I think it best not in Indiana. The reason is his ability to make adjustments game to game and matchups. I would like to have seen Hibbert on Boozer, and McRoberts on Noah. Perhaps the matchup would have costed us points, but it would have a had greater reduction in second chance points with Noah killing us on the boards with his athleticism. Hibbert – too slow. Hansbrough – too little length and athleticism. In addition when he was promoted I did not expect wholesale changes midseason especially offensively, but defensively there was some time to make improvements like developing a better philosophy against pick-roll and pick-pop.

    The Pacers are a small market team, and it is unlikely and unfair to expect a major superstar player to come to Indiana as suggested by commentators. Rather future success is dependent upon playing the right way by not wasting possessions and not giving up second chance opportunities. In short, playing with synergy. To sell this to players after not playing this way under Vogel would be a tough sell. Rather, it is best hire a fresh face who is known to be detailed oriented or an assistant that comes from a team/system that is detailed oriented. Moreover, the Pacers need a coach to get more out of Hibbert. I agree with the author’s repeated critiques of Hibbert’s game this past year, but the Pacers can ill afford to be wasteful like the big market teams by labeling a guy a bust and moving on. Eventhough he did not fare well against Howard this year, last year Hibbert won his matchups Dwight. To me Hibbert’s struggles remind me of many big men starting out. I know he has been in the league 3 years, but with what coaching? Have people forgotten Pacer history with Smitts and his weight? Or how countless big men starting in the league wait for the double team before reacting.

    In closing, again I do not hate Vogel, and I wish him well. If he is hired, I believe the job will be even tougher as outlined earlier, but I will support him as coach. My personal preference is Frank Hamblen, an Indiana native who can come in and demand respect, and whose contract is expiring June 30th as well.

    I apologize for the post being long. Thank you.

  • Corey M

    In my opinion, before we start signing free agents we must sign Paul George to a long-term extension. This kid is just making me soo excited to be a Pacer fan. He has the ability to change games defensively and has enough skill offensively to average 20 pts a game. We have got to make this kid a Pacer for life like we did with Reggie. Go Pacers!

  • Ian2

    Giving Vogel a short term deal is a smart move. The players like him and he has a positive attitude. As the team matures its possible they will outgrow him, which is why a short term deal is a requirement. I don’t think other teams are going to be knocking down his door with offers.

    It’s pretty unfair to go after his tactics when he had to implement them midseason. You can’t really judge a coach on that unless he’s been there since day 1. But its obvious his attitude had a big effect on the team and they played really hard against the Bulls.

    Ultimately the NBA playoffs regress to primitive offense that puts star players in iso and post situations. The Pacers don’t have a take-over-the-game guy yet and it was obviously the difference against a supposedly vastly superior opponent in the Bulls, where the only difference was Rose’s ability to draw 20 FT a game. No coach can overcome that. Replace Rose with a high quality NBA shooting guard like, say, Joe Johnson, and the Pacers win that series. I don’t actually think Rose is worth the nearly 30 win difference between the two club’s records, but in the playoffs when teams revert to the basics, such a player is what seems to matter.

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  • Tad

    Signing Paul George to a long-term extension before necessary would be the WORST thing this franchise could possibly do. That is how franchises get in cap trouble and never get out. We have no idea how good George is going to be. He shows athleticism and defensive capability, but he can’t hit the broadside of a barn on offense. George needs to vastly improve before you can figure out what’s he worth. Besides, what if he gets hurt? Then your stuck with a big contract for an untradeable asset. I hope George turns into a great player, but Corey M is really jumping the gun.

  • http://www.eightpointsnineseconds.com Tim Donahue

    Barring significant changes in the rookie contract structure in the new CBA – which I DO NOT expect – discussion of signing Paul George to an extension is a moot point.

    George is signed to a standard four-year rookie deal. The first two of which are guaranteed, and each of the last two are team options. Under the current rules, the Pacers cannot offer George an extension until the summer before the final year of this deal, or 2014.

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