Scott Skiles resignation catches Orlando Magic by surprise

Feb 26, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Scott Skiles looks on from the sidelines against the New York Knicks during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks won 108-95. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 26, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Scott Skiles looks on from the sidelines against the New York Knicks during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks won 108-95. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

Before Wednesday, the Orlando Magic had no reason to believe Scott Skiles was not their coach. Then in a surprising move, Skiles suddenly resigned.

At some point during the day Wednesday, Scott Skiles informed the Orlando Magic of his decision to resign as head coach.

It was a decision that caught the whole team by surprise. There were the usual twists and turns of the regular season that have coaches and general managers frustrated and elated with and at each other. There was the evaluation of the offseason, including long meetings between ownership, management and coach to assess what the team could do.

It seemed like even though the team failed to make the Playoffs, they were happy with the job Skiles had done in his first year to get to 35-47 and optimistic about the future. And Skiles seemed engaged with the process of going through the offseason and getting this team to that next step.

Everything seemed to be moving forward toward the 2017 season — and an important offseason before it.

At some point, Skiles believed he was no longer the right coach for this team. And so he caught the Magic by surprise and resigned.

Thursday morning, longtime Magic employee — at one point the public relations director and now the team’s CEO — Alex Martins gave Skiles one last call to see if this was truly the decision he wanted.

It was and Skiles was no longer the head coach for the Magic, with the team accepting his resignation Thursday.

“I’m disappointed more than anything,” Martins said. “He’s a friend first and foremost. We have a long history together. I was very disappointed when I got the phone call from him yesterday.

“Disappointed in his decision. We had a long talk about his reasons why and I respect him for his decision. It’s a personal decision that he felt he had to make. I respect him for it. But I’m disappointed.”

The Magic would not comment about any of the specific reasons why Skiles suddenly resigned as the Magic’s head coach Thursday, only to say that they were personal and not basketball related. Rumors will surely continue to fly about what became disconnected between the Magic and Skiles.

Unexpectedly though, it became a challenging day for the Magic as they were left without a head coach and without a firm direction along with the noise of needing a fourth coach in three seasons after Skiles’ sudden departure.

The move from Skiles blindsided everyone within the organization. Especially after a season that seemed to head in the right direction.

“Quite honestly, the pain is still with all of us,” Hennigan said of perhaps the disappointment of the season leading to Skiles’ exit. “We wanted to make the playoffs and we didn’t. We still have some work to do there. At the same time, we do feel like we made progress this year. I want to make clear, Scott Skiles did a heck of a job this year. We improved in a lot of categories. Scott brought a really good structure, a discipline and accountability to our team that not only has benefited from in the short term but will benefit from in the long term. We believe in Scott and his ability to coach.”

Hennigan said there was always healthy dialogue between him and Skiles and the entire basketball staff. Martins said Skiles was fully engaged in the basketball conversations the team was having moving into this important offseason.

There was no indication Skiles was unhappy in any way or not committed to the team moving forward. It would seem that the Magic intended to move forward with Skiles as their head coach for the foreseeable future.

The decision to leave fully Skiles’ call and one that no one within the organization thought possible before Wednesday.

It was less than a year ago that Hennigan was sitting down with Skiles to interview him for the position. He said there was always something of an alignment in basketball philosophy and what kind of team they wanted the Magic to be from that conversation.

And the team did improve. The Magic wanted to bring in more accountability and some proven direction and Skiles seemed to bring that with him. The team improved dramatically on offense and defense and in the win column with 10 more wins this year than last.

It is unclear what led to this decision. It was, in every sense of the word, surprising.

“I don’t think there was one particular thing that stands out,” Hennigan said, thinking back to if there were any signs of discord or disagreement. “We had a lot of dialogue throughout the course of the season. Lots of different things were discussed. I can’t recall one point in time that would indicate that.”

There is nothing left to do but try to move forward then.

The Magic have not begun contacting candidates, Hennigan said, and will have a similar coaching criteria as they did last year. The team, thanks to what Skiles did in his lone year, certainly feels like it is in a good position to get the head coach they want — Alex Martins even noted the “so-called experts” saying the Magic might have the best job currently on the market.

Hennigan said he believes the Magic are in a good position for a new coach moving forward. And the team’s trajectory is still looking up.

“While this is a challenging day, we have to look at it as an opportunity to find a new coach who fits our team and can propel us forward. We do have some big decisions to make relative to the draft and free agency. Our philosophy all along is we make decisions mutually and collaboratively and discuss things as an entire staff. We will continue to do that once we get the new coach in place.”

Skiles though has deep meaning to the franchise. And seeing him depart under these sudden and somewhat mysterious circumstances stings just a little bit more.

He was one of the franchise’s favorite players from his playing days with the Magic. While he was different as a coach, there was undoubtedly that pull for longtime fans. And even for Martins, admittedly.

Scott Skiles, Victor Oaldipo, Orlando Magic
Apr 1, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Scott Skiles greets guard Victor Oladipo (5) during the third quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

It is disappointing for sure to see his tenure with the Magic end this way. Certainly everyone believed it would come with a Playoff appearance or two before the Magic may have had to move on to their next coach.

“He was a fan favorite and he was an Alex Martins favorite,” Martins said. “I’m as disappointed as the fans are today that Scott made this decision. The strength is in the organization. We talk all the time around here that no one individual is more important than the Orlando Magic organization. The organization is still here. Our ownership is still here. We will rebound from this. We are on an upward path in terms of winning on the court. We didn’t meet our expectations this year in terms of getting to the Playoffs, but we did improve by 10 games. Our expectation is that improvement is going to continue with a new leader. Our expectation is that we are going to make the Playoffs.”

Certainly the Magic have questions to answer about their organization and what Skiles’ sudden decision to depart means. Potential coaches will certainly be curious to the answer to some of these questions.

Next: Scott Skiles resigns as head coach of the Orlando Magic

All that is left Thursday is simple surprise that this is where the Magic are at. And now the resolve to move forward and finish the job Skiles started.