Full Press Conference Transcript
Bird: Over the last few days, I had numerous conversations with Frank (Vogel) and decided it's time for a new voice around here. Sometimes my job really sucks, and this is one of the toughest things I've done because of the respect I have for Frank. I've had time to think about it and watch the team throughout the year. I know a lot of you didn't expect us to make the playoffs, but obviously I have a lot higher expectations than most people about how our team should play and how far they should go in the playoffs and how they should compete every night. I just came to the conclusion that it's necessary for these guys to hear a new voice. It's tough. Frank's not getting fired. His contract is up, and I made a decision not to renew it. He'll have a lot of interest out there, and he'll be fine. The hard part about it, and like I told Frank, is since he's been here 5 and a half years and he has young children, to move his family and take the kids out of school. I went through that, it's one of the toughest things. But in saying all that, I wish him the best of luck and thank him for everything. Now we are on the search for a new leader, a new opportunity here to move this franchise forward to a place I think we should be.
For the new leader, what exactly are you looking for?
The same as I did when I hired Frank. I brought Frank in here with really no experience, head coaching experience, and told him what I expected. I expect guys to be professional, be out in the community, have rapport with them, hold them accountable, get them to play hard, play together, respect one another. The coach we bring in I'm sure will have all the qualities to be a good leader.
In the past you've talked about how coaches get tuned out after a number of years. Do you think this team tuned out Frank? Did he lose the locker room?
I don't know about losing the locker room. I wouldn't go that far. I've been around the history of the game for a lot of years, my experience has been good coaches leave after three years. I played for Bill Fitch and seen it happen first hand. I talked to Red Auerbach on the subject a lot. We had Casey Jones for five years. Nicest man I ever met and they let him go. And we were having success. If you look around the league there are guys being dismissed and you always wonder why. If you're there everyday, you see the things going on. I don't think Frank ever lost the locker room but I think at times players just don't listen. You have to keep them mentally focused. If you have a new voice and a new strategy you hold their attention longer.
If somebody calls you for a reference on Frank, what will you tell them?
He's the best. He's been in our community. A lot of people know him. Great man. He's a great leader. He will do fine. He's looking forward to the opportunity of his job. He's the real deal. He's a good man.
Are you looking for a coach who will play a certain way? Are you looking for a certain style of play?
Well you guys know that I like to score more points than what we're scoring. This year, our offensive efficiency rating is about the same as it was last year, 23rd this year, 24th last year. We went from 27th to 12th in fast breaks and I think that's because we got more steals and Monta (Ellis) was out leading the break a lot. But yeah I'd like to score more points. Hopefully we can do that. Our defense with Dan Burke has been great like it has every year. Obviously we can do a little bit more with high pick and rolls, probably a little bit better job. But It's all about scoring some points. If your defense is better you don't have to score as many, but you'd like score as many as you possibly can and you have to put the players in the right position to do that.
Is Nate McMillan a candidate?
Well I got a list of guys, I'm just putting it together. This decision, final decision, just came down, even though at All-Star break I started thinking about it. It's really a tough deal, it really is. The next coach comes in, I'll take my time and go through a lot and make sure we get the one we think can lead them and keep the ears of the players and push them to higher levels than they have been lately. We're excited about it. I was happy for Paul coming back after his injury the way he did. I sat out a year so I know how tough it is. He finished strong. Obviously with Myles, with his work ethic and ability, I think that he's going to improve a lot. We're going to be looking around to see what we can do this summer.
Larry you've talked about the need for a new voice and that's really all you've said as to why this is happening. Is it as simple as that? Is there anything you look at Frank and say he didn't do well enough?
I think he did fine. It's all about motivating the players and getting them to play at a higher level. If you have their ear it works. This goes back a long time ago. I've seen it. After a certain number of years it's time to make a move, and that's how I feel. I know it's not going to be a 100% popular move, but all I think about is the franchise. What's best for the franchise, and I think this is.
You have a short list of guys that you'll be looking at. Do you want someone with NBA head coaching experience? Is that important to you?
That's not important. I've seen it happen too many times. It's how they motivate, how they lead, how they get the respect of the players and obviously strategy. That's not real important. And it's not important they played in the league either. Who would know Frank would have the success he had? I think the best thing we did is when he came here and took over for Jimmy, he had the opportunity 7 or 8 of the next 10 games. It was sort of planned that way. And he did and got off to a good start, and I think the players bought in right away.
The feedback you got from the players in the year ends, did that play into this at all?
No. I don't let my players come in and talk about the coach. I've never done that because that can get completely out of control. I talk to them about the season, what I expect of them throughout the summer, if they have injuries we need to take care of and the things that I saw throughout the year that were good or bad, I bring them up to them and talk to them about it.
Did you ever think of making a move during the season?
No. I thought because of Frank, I thought he deserved the whole year. I don't like to make moves in the middle of the season. He deserved the chance to finish it out.
What were your conversations with Frank like over the last couple of days. How many times did you meet?
Well we didn't really meet. We talked this morning for probably a half hour on the phone. He was trying to talk me out of this decision. Frank loves it here. His family loves it. He kept bringing it up, can we sit down and delay the news conference and start all over again. He's gonna be missed. He's a good guy. He was good for our community.
Frank was the fourth longest tenured coach, how do you balance continuity with getting a new ear for the locker room especially considering only three of the guys have been here for 3 or more years?
It comes down to what you're looking for going forward. I think that we've got some good players, and we got two guys who are really good players. How are we going to get the other guys to raise their level of play, that's what the new coach is going to do. And obviously we're going to look this summer to bring in other players. See what's available and what it takes to get the guys we want. I think the franchise is in a good position. I expect if you win 45 games, I expect us to win more this year. I didn't give a number before the season started, but somebody asked me if you expect to be in the playoffs and I thought he was kidding. I expect to be in the playoffs and make it through a few rounds and see how good our players really are. The first round is always nice, but you don't really get into the playoffs and know what the playoffs are about until you get to the Eastern Conference Finals and The Finals. That's when the basketball really starts.
Did something happen around the All-Star break? Did Frank do something or did you see something out of the team that made you think it's time for a change?
Our season was so up and down. We won games and had some success. I think we lost our first three games, then we were 12-5, then we lose games, it was so up and down. I really couldn't figure it out. Was it the players weren't good enough? Was it because Paul was hitting the wall a little bit? We played small early and had some success. The whole year I was waiting on Myles Turner. A lot of people don't think Summer League is valuable. When he was down there last summer, the way he was playing and the way he was dominating, I knew right then that by All-Star break, small ball was probably going to be out the window, if we had it that long. That kid needed to be playing, he needed to be in there getting experience. Then he breaks his hand and I thought he was probably going to be done for the season, but through his hard work and his dedication and love for the game, he came back and finished strong. His future is very bright. There's nothing I've seen, other than, it's just the voice. It really is. Every day the same voice, I think guys sometimes tune that out. It happens. It's unfortunate. Through my experience Frank was here 5.5 years and that's a long time for me for a coach.
Is Kevin McHale on the list and what's your relationship with him?
I would not do that to Kevin, have him work me. That's just not fair. I respect the man too much. We've been through too many battles together to bring him here and be my coach. I would love for him to be my coach, but it isn't going to happen because of our relationship.
If Frank had one year left on his contract, would he be coming back in that case?
Well we don't have to worry about that because he doesn't have one year left on his contract.
How important is NBA playing experience in your search for a coach?
Nothing. I don't buy that. Some of the best coaches I ever had in college high school and pro never played the game. I don't think it's important. A lot of people do because they get to know their players, they know how fatigued they are, they know what they're thinking. That comes into play but that's not the most important thing to me.
When do you want to have this done by?
I don't know. Today is when everyone will be calling for the job. Believe me there are a lot of people out there who would want this job. I think we will take our time. It's hard to say, it really is. Just interview some guys, if you find one you really like then you just move on. There's not a problem getting head coaches that want to come here. This is a great city, a great place to live and we've got some good talent. There are some guys out there that would like to coach Paul and Myles and some of our other guys. We're not going to have a problem getting a coach.
You mentioned Frank tried talking you out of this? Did he come close?
I'd rather not talk about that.
You've mentioned you have a number of people on the list? How many coaches are on the list right now?
We're going to Chicago next week and I'm sure I'll see a lot of them up there. I'm not going to start calling people today. I've been here with Nate for two years and not one time have I asked him if he wanted to be a head coach again. It's not how I operate. I don't ask my assistant coaches what they think the job Frank is doing. I thought Nate handled himself as well as anyone I'd ever seen as a head coach who'd come in as an assistant. I never sit down with Nate and talk basketball and strategies and different things. It's Frank show and he works for Frank. I never did ask him if he's willing to step back into the grind.
Do you have a specific number in mind as far as the number of candidates you want to engage with?
No. Once I get my list, I'll go after it. If the first guy is the guy I want, and I like what he says. Interviews are hard because they all are going to say the right things, but you just have to pick their brain and see their strategies and go from there.
Was there a disconnect? I know you wanted to play small and faster and after an X number of games you went to the two bigs. Was that a part of your decision?
What we do, me and Frank sit down every summer and strategize how we want to play. We decided we wanted to play small. I said this before. When the season starts, it's his game, his team, and he has to figure out how to win as many games he possibly can, big or small. He came to me and said, look I feel more comfortable playing with two bigs than small and I said ok. I really felt with Paul coming back from his injury, the four position would be a lot easier for him. He said the banging with the other guys every day would take a lot out of him and he preferred to play the 3. That was probably part of the decision that Frank made to play two bigs. I like small ball. Some nights we'd fire it up there and make a lot of threes and beat some pretty good teams. Other nights they'd fire it up there and not make any shots and we'd get beat. I think over a period of time, I think it would have worked a lot better once they got familiar with each other, especially shooting a lot of threes.
Larry, what do you need to do to improve the roster or can you do to improve the roster to help the next coach?
Well you try to get the best players you can and we know through the grapevine that there are some players who would like to come here and play. We can't talk to other players right now, but there is talk out there and you hear it. We'll see what happens, a lot of time it's just fluff, but our job is to make the team as strong as we possibly can, and the new coach might have some ideas and players that he likes, so once we get that all squared away and July comes we'll see what's available.
The cost of paying for a head coach in the market today has changed dramatically since Frank was hired, is this something Herb Simon is willing to do?
Yes, we'll do what is necessary to do to get the right guy.
With a new coach coming in, whatever player moves are made, is there any reboot at all of expectations, or is this change being made because you expect this team right away to take another step up?
I expect us to be better, I think they will be. I think when your two better players, Paul (George) coming off his injury got a year under his belt, and Myles (Turner) making strides like he is, instantly you should be better. Now what you're going to add to that group and how the other guys are going to react is probably going to make the difference as to whether you make a small leap or a big leap but the franchise I think is in a good place going forward with some of the guys we have. And I always expect greatness and a team that's going to be competitive every night.
Larry you had made the decision in October not extend Solomon Hill, what's your approach to him now?
Like I told Solomon, the best thing that ever happened to him was us putting a boot in his butt and getting him going because he wasn't getting the job done and I think he'll be the first one to tell you. He was laid back, he was disappointed we didn't pick it up (his player option), but coming off of Summer League he wasn't there, he wasn't playing well at all, he didn't even look like an NBA player. He was out of shape, he didn't play well and I told him, I said 'we might not pick up your option' so he was upset about it, and pouting around a little bit, but finally I had Kevin Pritchard go down and talk to him a little bit, 'tell him next year I'll see him in the D-League,' and Kevin went and talked to him and it fired him up.
And I'm happy for the kid because, the one thing Solomon's got that you can't take away from him: he plays hard. That's a talent. For a guy to come out there every day and practice and in the games and play hard, and he did, once he got it, he started playing hard, started getting some minutes, and I was happy for him because I think he realized who he was as a basketball player. He's probably not going to be a 35-40 minute guy, but, he has an opportunity to get with somebody and be on a team now. He played well for us down the stretch and I like I told him in the exit interview, you never know in this league what might happen, we might bring him back. It might cost us a little bit more money but now he knows who he is as a player, that's only a plus.
Couple things, will you talk to Paul George and some of the players about their desires with a head coach moving forward?
I text Paul (George) I wouldn't say often, every once in a while, but I don't like to bother my players. When I played, I didn't want the front office bothering me, and playing for Red (Auerbach), he wasn't going to bother me anyways, because he didn't want my opinion on anything. But I don't let players influence me on my decisions. At the end, I might run it by a couple of guys, but I think it's important to get someone that they all respect, and I think that's a key
Did you ever meet with Frank face-to-face in the last couple of days, or has it all been over the phone?
It's been on the phone. We had our exit interviews and I had something to do right after, then yesterday he didn't come in, then I talked to him last night, and this morning, we talked.
You have this philosophy that coaches tend to lose their voice in the locker room after X amount of time. Do you worry that the next coach will say: 'well, I only got three years, four years, five years, it may not be a long-term situation for me in Indiana?'
Maybe so, I don't think so, but you don't want to get in these situations where you extend guys out after three years and find out it's the wrong move. Some teams do that, I tend not to do that. I don't think it will be a problem at all. There's a lot of people that want this job and I know why. It's a good place to live, we've got good schools, good doctors, good hospitals, good people, we're Hoosiers. And we treat people – other than today – we usually treat people pretty good.
This is a time of year where we usually start hearing crazy trade rumors, both large and small, is anything like that even on your radar right now?
No, this was the thing I was concentrating and thinking about since the season was over, and now we'll get back to business.
You ruled out Kevin McHale, can we hit you up about Mark Jackson, what's your thoughts on him as a coach?
I think he did an excellent job. I think he helped Golden State get where they're at today.