ORLANDO — Before and after almost any game, opposing coaches will compliment each other and for the most part, they’re doing what’s taught in Coaching 101: respect the guy on the other bench.
Except in the Orlando-Indiana series, it’s genuine. And sensible. Because it really doesn’t get much better than coach Frank Vogel and Stan Van Gundy, two of the best in the business.
That might catch you by surprise, such high praise for two guys who haven’t won a championship. Vogel is only in his second full season with the Pacers and Van Gundy just weeks ago had an uncomfortable moment with his superstar player that unraveled before the media. But in their own separate way, Vogel and Van Gundy have earned themselves respect within the profession. And they’re also putting their mark on a series that’s tied 1-1, with Game 3 tonight at Amway Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV).
“That team is well coached,” Vogel said of the Magic and Van Gundy.
“They’re a well-coached team,” Van Gundy said of Vogel and the Pacers.
It takes one to know one.
Of the two, Van Gundy is clearly under more stress. Not because there’s pressure on him to win the series; quite the contrary. He’s under duress because of another issue, his relationship with Dwight Howard. This isn’t the first time Van Gundy had issues with the resident superstar; Shaquille O’Neal predated Howard. Since relationships are a part of coaching, that could be an issue with Van Gundy.
And yet, to see how hard his undermanned team has played since Howard had back surgery, especially in this first-round series, tells you there’s also a segment of players who respect Van Gundy. Wouldn’t it be easy for the Magic to just lie down and bow out and grease the road for Van Gundy’s exit? Instead, they’ve out-worked the Pacers so far, losing one game only because Indiana has better players.
“I know he appreciates the way we’ve gone hard in the games,” said Ryan Anderson.
Van Gundy’s strengths lie in his passion and work ethic. His teams are seldom, if ever, underprepared. His game strategy is also very efficient. The organization knows Van Gundy will leap to the top of the wish list of any team looking for a coach, should the Magic release him this summer. That’s when you know you have a good coach.
Vogel was elevated to coach after Jim O’Brien was fired in the middle of last season and has flourished since. Larry Bird was wise to make him the permanent coach and the Pacers’ president was rewarded when Vogel helped the Pacers on an encouraging playoff run last spring. This season, they finished third in the East and have a fair shot at reaching the conference finals.
Vogel has preached hard work and ball sharing, and both elements are evident when the Pacers play. Also, he has slowly worked Paul George into a major role in the offense without upsetting Danny Granger, the team’s leading scorer. Finally, Vogel made the gutsy call to bench his starting point guard, Darren Collison, late in the season in favor of George Hill. Yet Collison’s confidence, so far, doesn’t appear to be damaged by it.
Given all that, it’s clear Vogel and Van Gundy have tough jobs this series. Not only must they prepare for the opposing players, they must prepare for each other.