When the Pacers fired Rick Carlisle as coach in 2007, he was so invested in the franchise he publicly suggested candidates to replace him.
Well, 14 years later, Carlisle is once again involving himself in Indiana’s coaching search – as the Pacers’ next coach.
Tim MacMahon of ESPN:
Sources: The Pacers are hiring Rick Carlisle as head coach. He will sign a 4-year, $29 million contract.
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) June 24, 2021
Carlisle looks like a good hire, but he’s fighting history.
This is the 19th time an NBA team re-hired a former head coach with the franchise (previously most recently Flip Saunders with the Timberwolves).
Of the prior 18, 15 had a worse record than in their previous stint,* though a couple others won a championship in their second stint.**
*The three exceptions: Cotton Fitzsimmons with the Phoenix Suns (the second, not the third, time), Lenny Wilkens with the Seattle SuperSonics, Alex Hannum with the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers
**Phil Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers, Pat Riley with the Miami Heat
Typically, only coaches who set a high bar get asked back. So, that’s harder to clear. Plus, teams too often lean into the comfortable – rather than the best – choice.
Carlisle mostly succeeded with the Pacers from 2004-07. They won 55% of their regular-season games, reached the playoffs in three of four years, won three series and – in the 2004 Eastern Conference finals – pushed the eventual-champion Pistons harder than anyone else did.
Carlisle’s tenure was undermined by the Malice at The Palace and players’ other legal issues. He was deemed to be the wrong manager of the roster.
Indiana changed team presidents (Larry Bird to Kevin Pritchard) and obviously the entire roster since Carlisle was there last. Though Herb Simon remains owner and Bird is still in the front office as an advisor, Carlisle has earned another head-coaching job. This isn’t just the Pacers turning to a familiar face.
After getting fired by Indiana, Carlisle went to the Mavericks, guided them to the 2011 championship and bolstered his reputation. That could come in handy as he deals with Pacers players who have resisted their last couple coaches. After rookie NBA head coach Nate Bjorkgren, who turned off a lot of people, Indiana will welcome someone with prior NBA head-coaching experience – there or elsewhere.
Carlisle can be gruff, but he has proven to be a good coach overall. That will buy him more leeway to instill the quality game plans this team needs.