Stan Van Gundy has been in the news a lot lately. For most coaches that is not a good thing. Most coaches prefer to stay in the background and let the players do a lot of the talking — and playing — for them. Coaches are just the strategy-makers, it is the players who must execute and be most accountable — although the coach is the one who gets fired first.
So having just about everyone in the NBA universe talk about Van Gundy might be a little unsettling for some. His war of words with David Stern last week ended with some words that perhaps should not have been said and then a hard step down and gag order from the commissioner’s office.
Van Gundy is craftier than you might think.
He is genuinely honest and does not hold back any words. It is refreshing in a world where coaches are as much public relations voices as anything else, filling press conferences with “coachisms” and cliches.
Van Gundy definitely does not do that. He holds his players openly accountable and keeps expectations high. He can do that because he has a veteran team with championship expectations. But Van Gundy is also quick to put the blame on himself and keep his players from receiving too much harsh criticism.
And his frank demeanor is also refreshing as nobody is ever trying to untangle what he says. Heck, reporters even seek out his opinion. In January, a national reporter asked Van Gundy about his opinion of the Seattle Seahawks hosting a playoff game by winning their division even though they did not have a winning record. He gave his opinion without batting an eye.
Winning sure helps Van Gundy get away with all this. But even in hard times, Van Gundy has found a way to distract the media and keep the attention off the team on himself. Maybe these are distractions to the team, but they do not appear to be.
They often come off as protecting his players — and Van Gundy does make a good point in his constant complaints to the league office about how Dwight Howard is fouled even if his analogy to Middle East dictators was probably in bad taste.
It is a strategy Van Gundy has used throughout his time in Orlando, and so far it has worked. This will be his fourth time taking Orlando to the Playoffs in four years.
Part of it is just who he is. He is a perfectionist who does not hold back any puches. It is the reason why so many players love playing for him, but hate playing against him (as a recent Sports Illustrated players poll revealed). He wears his emotions on his sleeves and it leads to some good entertainment on the bench.
You cannot ask Van Gundy not to be himself. He is who he is. So Van Gundy should keep doing what he is doing. It has been successful for him.
There are areas where he needs to improve, perhaps. He has shown a willingness to listen to his players and change some of his methods (we think). Whether he actually has is a matter for debate.
Still Van Gundy has done a masterful job overall in his time, turning a group of mediocre defenders and Dwight Howard into an elite defensive teams. He has stretched his roster very far, even if he appears to be getting crushed by the expectations his success has wrought.