Scott Skiles’ resignation came down to relationships

Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan and CEO Alex Martins introduce new head coach Scott Skiles. Photo by Philip Rossman-Reich/Orlando Magic Daily
Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan and CEO Alex Martins introduce new head coach Scott Skiles. Photo by Philip Rossman-Reich/Orlando Magic Daily /

Scott Skiles‘ resignation appears to have centered on disagreements with management he could not continue. The next coach has to be on board with management

Stan Van Gundy is the best coach in Orlando Magic history.

There is virtually no reason to fire someone like that. No reason to give up that much of an asset. Like a star player, a star coach can change a franchise. Look at how Gregg Popovich built a dynasty on the will of his personality and coaching acumen. Or how Jerry Sloan kept the Utah Jazz relevant.

The best teams have a unified message. A direct line between owner, general manager and coach. They all work in tandem — with their fair amount of argument and debate for the same goal. When that breaks, relationships break down.

Stan Van Gundy sealed his fate as the future coach of the Orlando Magic when he outed Dwight Howard for trying to get him fired and airing out the dirty laundry behind closed doors. The line of communication and the unity had been shattered.

The Magic’s best coach — something that could have saved the franchise post-Dwight Howard — was and had to be gone. Without trust and belief in the direction of the franchise, there was no way forward.

Five years later, the Magic seem to be facing the same issues.

Scott Skiles suddenly resigned saying he was no longer the right coach for this team. Through no one’s decision but his own, he felt like he could not continue as the team’s coach.

It did not take long for the rumors to emerge that there was some discord between Skiles and general manager Rob Hennigan over personnel decisions and the direction of the franchise.

According to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel and several other outlets, one of the main disconnects centered on point guard Elfrid Payton. Payton had an up-and-down season and certainly seemed to struggle with the structure of Skiles’ offense. There was frustration and some resistance.

Skiles was not convinced Payton would be the Magic’s future at point guard while Hennigan still seemed sold on Payton’s future. It being his second year and this being the first time he had run a NBA offense with this much structure, giving up on him seems a bit premature, but fully committing to him would too. An argument — or dialogue as Hennigan put it in Thursday’s press conference — was certainly warranted.

These are all natural things that happen in a front office. The way the Magic portrayed it there was no strong disconnect over personnel. The team had healthy discussions, but there was nothing to clue them in that something was bubbling under the surface. There were never any demands from Skiles that it was “him or me.”

“I honestly don’t think there was a disconnect,” Rob Hennigan said. “I would be curious to hear Scott’s take on that. I think throughout the course of the season, our dialogue was healthy, it was transparent, and I thought it was consistent. I think that was a mischaracterization.”

This was only the beginning.

Chris Mannix of The Vertical reports the disagreements did not only extend to Payton. Skiles had grown “disenchanted,” as Mannix describes it, with the attitudes of modern NBA players. Perhaps that is a problem with the individual players or something a bit more.

It led to Skiles’ growing unhappiness as the season went on. Perhaps that was reflected in the team’s play.

Rumors have flown about Skiles wanting out as early as January — something Hennigan dismissed without acknowledging the specific report as the normal ups and downs of a season. And, yes, there were reports Skiles lobbied the DeVos family directly for the job, thus undercutting Hennigan and his authority even if in a minor way.

Already, it becomes clear this relationship was off to a shaky start. And it got only shakier as Skiles got to work after sitting out two years from the head coaching business.

And Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reports many higher ups within the Magic organization went to bat for Skiles when his name did come up — however it did — and are now livid by his sudden departure.

Wojnarowski says, rightly, it is hard to put up a unified front when the relationship is forced together.

It is hard to think about this, but the NBA is just like any business. Coaches do a lot of work in games and on the practice court, but they also head upstairs to an office, have meetings with the general manager and coaching staff. They have work to do. And communication and trust up and down the work chain is critical.

That communication and that trust is the only way for an organization to be successful. It is the only way for a team to have those productive conversation and move forward. When a coach is working against his general manager or a general manager undermining his coach, it is hard for the team to get anything done.

The very basics of a workplace relationship are critical — and that includes ultimately doing what your bosses ask of you. And that appears to be what was missing.

Missing to the point that Skiles did not feel he could continue on as coach. Even after the Magic did their typical season-ending retreat to discuss the season and find a way to improve and move forward. Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reports the Magic believed they had assuaged his concerns and were ready to move forward. Martins and Hennigan both said it felt like Skiles was engaged with the offseason plans.

Clearly, they read the tea leaves wrong.

As the Magic seek a new coach, of course it has to be someone who has a similar vision to Rob Hennigan (although Hennigan said he felt he and Skiles had a similar vision). It has to be someone who believes in the roster. It has to be someone whom Hennigan can trust too. Perhaps Hennigan has to let go of some of his preferences and listen to the outside voice and someone with a little more distance.

Related Story: Scott Skiles resignation catches Orlando Magic by surprise

The basics though are important. It has to be a partner. Someone who will communicate and hold the rope instead of letting go or fighting against the group. This does not mean going along with everything Hennigan says, but it means finding a way to make things work.

This was not always Skiles way. Skiles was stubborn, but the Magic should have known that entering the hire.

Hennigan says he has an open communication and collaboration with his staff. That has to be more than words, but practice for the Magic to be successful.