Larry Bird sounded cruel.
The Pacers president announced to the world that Frank Vogel begged for his job. Not only did he oust the coach anyway, Bird seemed to toy with him at a press conference today. Asked what he’d tell someone checking Vogel’s references, Bird answered with a resounding: “He’s the best.” What will Bird look for in the Pacers’ next coach? The same things that led him to Vogel during the last search.
So why did Bird fire Vogel?
“My experience has been good coaches leave after three years,” Bird said.
And maybe Bird is cruel, foolish, self-absorbed or any other adjective being thrown at him today.
But also realize he sincerely believes this.
After all, he also ousted a coach who went 147-67, reached two conference finals and an NBA Finals and won Coach of the Year in his three-year tenure.
Bird coached Indiana from 1997-2000, and even though he guided the team to the 2000 NBA Finals, he still stepped down after that third season.
“Three years is enough for a coach in any one place” Bird said he told the Pacers when they hired him.
Despite all his success, he stuck to it.
Bird said he spoke to Red Auerbach about the value of coaching turnover, and Boston had plenty. Bill Fitch got four years at the helm of Bird’s Celtics, K.C. Jones five – “nicest man I ever met, and they let him go, and we were having success,” Bird said – Jimmy Rodgers two and Chris Ford two (and another three after Bird retired).
Vogel coached Indiana five-and-a-half years.
“That’s a long time for me for a coach,” Bird said.
As so many teams across the NBA chase continuity, Bird actively rejects it – maybe to his detriment. Five of the six longest-tenured coaches in the league are still alive in the playoffs: Gregg Popovich (Spurs), Erik Spoelstra (Heat), Dwane Casey (Raptors), Terry Stotts (Trail Blazers) and Mike Budenholzer (Hawks). The Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle is the exception.
Bird just doesn’t want to follow that model.
“Every day the same voice and the same, I think guys sometimes tune that out,” Bird said. “It happens. It’s unfortunate.”
It is unfortunate, and it cost Vogel a job he appeared to be succeeding in and wanted to keep. You can wonder whether Bird and not just players tired of Vogel’s message, even if it were a wise one. Bird clearly believes he can assemble a roster, and he has own ideas about how he wants it coached (small, up-tempo, dynamic).
But don’t wonder about Bird’s intentions when he brings up three-year term limits for coaches.
Right or wrong, he believes in them.