It’s that time of year again. You can always count on it, as much as you
can count on the fact that your taxes are due at nearly the same time.
It’s the time of year when NBA franchises start courting high profile
coaching jobs to help take their teams to the promised land. The names
may be different depending on the year and depending on who’s hot but
they are out there every year. Thompson, Williams, Pitino, Calipari, Carlesimo,
Brown and now Huggins.
The Indiana Pacers reportedly have been discussing their Head Coaching position, which will become
vacant at the end of the year when Larry Bird steps down, with Cincinnati’s Bob Huggins. Huggins
has not denied talking to the Pacers, although he is ambiguous when it comes to what they are talking
about. Huggins has been quoted as saying “They’re all talking to me. I’ve got three players (Kenyon
Martin, DeMarr Johnson and Pete Mickeal) going in the first round. If they’re not talking to me,
they’re screwed up.” His intentions are vague, although it is pretty safe to say that he will
probably end up back at Cincinnati. At least that’s what Athletic Director Bob Goin is hoping will
be the case when he offers Huggins a handsome raise in his base salary along with an annuity worth
over $1 million if Huggins stays at Cincinnati through the 2000-2001 season.
You may be asking what the allure of coaching in the NBA is for these coaches who have been so
successful on the college level. Why do they entertain the idea of coaching there? After all, we’ve
all seen what happened to P.J. Carlesimo, John Calipari, and Rick Pitino. All three left programs
where they had a chance to go to the Final Four every year for NBA jobs where their success can be
described as lukewarm at best.
There are several reasons why coaches consider the upward movement to the NBA. Forget the old mantra
of “being able to coach the best athletes in the world.” With that comes the responsibility of having
to deal with the worst egos in the world. Forget the fact that a coach can leave the world of
recruiting behind him. Although this is a positive for some, it is actually a negative in the long
run. In college, if you have a bad or mediocre team, you have the ability to turn players over and
recruit better ones in a hurry. In the NBA, with its salary cap restrictions, turnover does not
happen so quickly and coaches can be stuck with players for long periods of time (See Rick Pitino
and the Boston Celtics).
The allure comes mostly from these two arguments. The first argument revolves around the advantage
of playing more games. Many, many, many more games. The NBA schedule consists of 82 times a year that
you prepare a team to play and show your stuff on the sideline, not to mention the allure of several
7 game playoff series in the postseason. Compare this to a typical 32-35 game schedule in college and
you have a competitive person who sees the opportunity to compete at least twice as many times a year
in the NBA than in college.
Yet, the biggest reason is the obvious reason — money. And the next time you hear a coach say that
it’s not about the money, you can count on the fact that it is about the money. NBA contracts for
coaches right now are huge. There are millions of dollars to be had. Of course job security does
not go hand-in-hand with coaching in the NBA (See P.J Carlesimo), so they make all the money that
they can while they can. But money from NBA franchises is not the only factor. Athletic Directors
and Presidents seem to be more willing to open up the checkbooks when NBA teams come calling on
their guys. You have to conclude that many times, the college coaches aren’t that interested in
coaching in the NBA but do not mind the attention because they are going to receive a handsome
reward for staying put. I know that might seem far-fetched to some, but Bob Huggins seems to
think that it works out just fine.