The storylines are written pretty clearly as the Magic hired Jacque Vaughn to be the franchise’s new head coach. Shaquille O’Neal may have made sure of that when he expressed the feeling of a lot of observers when news came down the Magic were considering Jacque Vaughn, the inexperience, recently retired assistant coach for the Spurs. If there was any hope of keeping Dwight Howard, such an unproven guy could not be the man to lead the Magic.
Maybe it was a sign that Dwight Howard would no longer be part of the team — a shadow that still hung over the franchise even as it introduced its new head coach Monday.
Vaughn though is not concerned with that storyline. He was very on message in expressing what he envisioned for the future of the Orlando Magic. The one thing everyone will have to get over is that lack of experience. Clearly he had done enough already to convince general manager Rob Hennigan, CEO Alex Martins and owner representative Dan DeVos, who all took the stage with Vaughn on Monday at Amway Center.
“Sometimes, life, it’s about timing, it is about luck, but sometimes you have to stick your neck out a little bit and take a leap of faith, create your own destiny,” Vaughn said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. The DeVos family is doing that today taking a leap of faith in my ability to relate to guys, to communicate with individuals, to get a group of men to gather together for a common goal, to have resolve, to compete. I am proud to be a part of that.
“Today, the destiny starts. And I am thankful to be the head coach of the Orlando Magic.”
It is a seeming recognition from Vaughn of the unlikely road he has taken to the lead seat on an NBA bench. After all, it was just three years ago Vaughn was playing and just two years ago that he began coaching for the first time. Coaching seemed to be in his future though. Doc Rivers saw it and Gregg Popovich saw it as they coached him themselves. And Vaughn has played for some great coaches, helping him develop into a veteran point guard in the league.
Vaughn credited Roy Williams, Jerry Sloan and Gregg Popovich for teaching him to relate with players, teaching him competitiveness and consistency and giving him the chance to be a coach. Popovich offered only rave reviews for him even after just two years as a coach. Hennigan and Martins spoke highly of these influences and continued to say this hire was along with their process and vision for the future of the Magic.
That immediate future is not so clear right now. Dwight Howard questions were asked and danced around (we can address those answers later) and it is not going to go away for the moment. It still exists and everyone acknowledged it.
What Vaughn’s job seems to be more about right now is the future and player development, helping bring along the players who will be playing for Orlando in the near future.
It is not clear what kind of style the Magic will be playing. The roster is not quite set and so the playing style is not quite set. We, of course, do not know what kind of coach Vaughn is — that pesky inexperience again.
The immediate future is not so important, as has been made abundantly clear. This is about creating a sustainable culture and franchise for the future.
“I talked to someone earlier, and I told them: ‘Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape,’” Vaughn said. “I believe in Rob and his ability to get good people around me, get good players. I want people who want to be coached, who want to compete, who want to be great. I’m pretty easy.”
This is very much in line with the strategic, process-driven approach Hennigan has been preaching since he was hired. Remember, Popovich, for all his hard-driving mannerisms, has been incredibly flexible with his approach. He has always emphasized defense first, but his offense has always featured what best suits his roster. He has not insisted on force-feeding Duncan while Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili entered their primes. He has now told Parker to take over the team completely and has urged him to up the pace. Vaughn was coaching the Spurs when they were no longer playing at a glacial pace.
Vaughn is a guy who was brought in on his ability to relate to players. He emphasized that he has sat in the same place that his players have sat in. That is what Hennigan and Alex Martins wanted to bring in.
Playing style will be completely roster dependent at the moment. The long-term future is more important than the short-term future for now. That is clear simply in hiring Vaughn.
The Magic believe Vaughn is the person to get Orlando through the next phase of their process. Vaughn very much believes in what Hennigan wants to build. He talked a lot about the process Hennigan is trying to build. And they seem to be in line. That is no surprise, obviously. It is just something different for a Magic franchise that has never really had an overarching goal or culture to build.
Orlando is looking clearly toward its future. Vaughn is here to develop that.
He may not have the bench experience many wanted in the next Magic coach. But he fits the plan Hennigan has in mind. They ask the Magic fans take the leap of faith with them and believe in this young new coach.
It might not even be that much of a leap.
“In Jacque, you have a player who has been a student of the game under some of the greatest coaches that have coached this game,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “Through this interview process, he made it clear to us that this was not a passive relationship. He was taking notes from the days he was playing for Coach Williams at Kansas because I really believe Jacque felt he would be sitting in this seat someday. He has been preparing himself, as he alluded to, for 14 years, not two.
“I don’t think we’re sticking our neck out at all. He is a high character individual who is going to work as hard or harder than anybody else. He is going to put great people around him. His teams will work hard every single night, I’m convinced of it. I think he is clearly prepared for this opportunity. I don’t think we have taken a risk or stuck our neck out at all. He is the right coach for this organization at this point in our history.”