Is Scott Skiles’ form of coaching finished in the NBA?


Scott Skiles has removed himself from the equation. Is it due to his coaching style and personality having no place in today’s NBA?

Last summer the Orlando Magic went out and hired well-known coach and former player Scott Skiles.

Everyone knows two things about Skiles at the drop of his name: He still holds the NBA record for most assists in the game (30) a quarter century later. And he is a tough, old school coach whose teams always tune him out in the end.

Skiles’ demeanor — tough, old school, grumpy, commanding — embodies an old style of coaching in the NBA. The his-way-or-highway style the NBA grew with. It has its place and helps teams take their first steps. But it ultimately wears thin. And each stop in Skiles’ career has seen his tenure get cut shorter and his exit get more frustrating.

Considering his decision to relieve himself of his duties last week, it does beg the question: Is this style of coaching finished in today’s NBA?

There certainly is a place for instilling accountability and pushing the team forward with some intensity.

Last summer, the Orlando Magic were a young team filled with young stars budding with potential. They almost had too many young possibilities. The team had not made the playoffs since Dwight Howard had left, and former coach Jacque Vaughn had failed to get the team over the hump after the team had restocked the shelf with young, but raw talent.

So who to call? The team needed someone to discipline young men, form an identity and get into the playoffs. Skiles seemed to fit the bill.

In his previous stops in Phoenix, Chicago and Milwaukee, Skiles had been tasked with taking young squads full of potential and get them to the playoffs.

In Phoenix he had a still-young Jason Kidd and a very young Shawn Marion, and got them to 51 wins and the playoffs in his first year. In Chicago, Skiles had five strong years. He started with a young squad of Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Tyson Chandler. He got them to the playoffs. In Milwaukee, Skiles took a young Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut to the playoffs.

Seems the perfect guy for this Magic squad.

Sure, on one side of the coin.

The other side is Skiles never left a team on good terms. Things would break down, his team would start resenting him and eventually one would have to go. Each time it was Skiles.

Yes, each team would improve, but each team would rapidly decline. Why? The consensus each time was Skiles’ approach would grind on the players.

The Magic did not reach this high and still ended up with the ignominious low.

Skiles was a perfectionist that would tear a guy down for a mistake. It was a him-vs.-you mentality. There was no choosing, Skiles was in charge, and he let you know about it.

He earned a reputation for not playing rookies. Initially this approach jump-started players into playing harder and better. It soon wears off.

This was a repeated trend that was well known around the league, so why would Orlando risk a repeat?

Skiles resigned after only year, completely out of the blue. This is after a season where he won a coach of the month award in December and had a great start.

Did Skiles simply realize these guys were already on the tuning out phase? That his trick of inspiring better play before a downfall had lasted only months instead of years this time? Or perhaps he realizes his style does not work anymore.

This is a new generation of player. They are entitled, they are smart and they want respect.

Skiles’ act does not hit home any more. Instead of rising to the challenge, they bristle and resist. They have just become accustomed to a new way of coaching. Examples of it are all over the league.

Coaches do not chew guys out anymore. They teach them. They respect them.

Scott Skiles, Orlando Magic
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 /

Judging by the coaches the Magic have targeted this time around — Frank Vogel and Adrian Griffin — these are more measured coaches with calm demeanors. They are teachers who work and grow with their teams.

There are perfect blueprints throughout the league. Steve Kerr speaks to his guys and keeps it democratic. They know he is in charge, but know they have voice and a place. He seeks their input and relates to them calmly. Players do not have to worry about impressing the coach anymore.

Coaches like Kerr can still get angry, and they sometimes have to punish. But there is a difference between the odd occasion and the daily grind that Skiles provides.

It is entirely possible Skiles’ approach just does not have a place in today’s NBA and he realized early on. Rather than go through a long struggle with players and fans first, and eventually the front office, and rather than compromise his own style, Skiles decided to save everyone the bother.

Indeed, while many of Skiles’ decisions went awry, he did reveal the possibility the team has if all starts clicking. Now the door is open for another coach to come in a build off the foundation.

Given their young talent and lack of veterans to lead them, the Magic could be a much harder squad to coach.

Next: The Undermining of the Process

For the most part they are hungry and competitive, eager to learn and eager to win. Whichever coach inherits them will find a squad ready to work, just not for a man representing an extinct approach.