INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Displaying the positive attitude that energized the Indiana players and fans, interim coach Frank Vogel explained why he believes he should be the next head coach.
Vogel took over for Jim O’Brien at midseason, went 20-18 and led the team to its first playoff berth since 2006. The Pacers were competitive in losing their first-round series to the Chicago Bulls.
“One thing I learned the last three months is that I can do this,” he said. “I’m confident in my leadership abilities, my management abilities, my coaching abilities. It’s been an honor to coach the last few months, it would be an honor to coach in the future.”
Team president Larry Bird was impressed with Vogel’s performance. He said the 37-year-old would get the first interview for the head coaching position.
“I think Frank did an excellent job, stepping in without the experience of a head coaching job,” Bird said. “The way he conducted himself, he brought positive energy to this team. We won more games than we lost. We did it with a young team, a team that’s trying to grow.”
The mood around the team quickly changed when Vogel stepped in. Early in his tenure, he claimed that Eastern Conference powers Boston, Miami and Orlando wouldn’t want to play the Pacers when _ not if _ they make the playoffs. He said the talent to win big already existed on the roster, and he told leery Pacers fans to hop on the bandwagon.
That confidence earned the respect of the players. Guard Dahntay Jones hopes Vogel returns.
“It would be a breath of fresh air to know we have some stability and some consistency,” Jones said. “Frank’s done an excellent job in the interim. When he’s coaching us, the focus is on the positive, helping us get better, helping us find a niche. He’s done a great job with us.”
Forward Tyler Hansbrough’s minutes increased dramatically under Vogel.
“Frank’s done a good job,” Hansbrough said. “I don’t know what they’re going to do. I’m not a part of that process. But he’s done a good job.”
Vogel accomplished what he said he would, yet he felt he could have done more.
“I was hopeful it would work better, to be honest with you,” he said. “I thought we could have made a serious run this year. This group has a high ceiling. A high ceiling for what they can achieve in the future.”
Vogel said he understands that the decision on his future could take some time. It’s uncertain if Bird will return as team president because he’s in the final year of his contract. Either way, Vogel said he’ll be patient.
“It’s really up to Larry and the front office,” he said. “Anytime you’re making a decision as important as this, you never want to rush into it. Whatever timetable they decide is fine with me.”
Vogel introduced “smashmouth” basketball, an approach that focused on driving to the basket to put pressure on defenses rather than on shooting a lot of 3-pointers. He moved Hansbrough, a second-year player, and Paul George, a rookie, into the starting lineup and restored third-year center Roy Hibbert’s confidence.
“I believed in the young guys we have on the team, and that if we went with them, the way we utilized them and the way we changed our style of play, that it would work,” Vogel said. “I think it did work.”
Vogel said the day he was hired that he would tighten the playing rotation.
“Earlier in the season, guys didn’t know it they were dressing or if they were sitting out or if they were going to play,” Bird said. “Under Frank, we sort of knew the three guys who weren’t going to dress. They knew their roles. There’s a lot more communication. I think the last 25, 30 games, Frank did a good job of letting the players know where they stood.”
Once roles became clear, the locker-room environment improved.
“We came together as a team,” Vogel said. “That doesn’t always happen, where guys really pull for each other and genuinely care for each other, fight for each other, work for each other and really just come together as a team in the true sense of the word. That’s what I’m most proud of with this team.”
The Pacers won seven of their first 10 under Vogel, then hit a stretch in which they dropped 8 of 9. Indiana rallied to win 10 of its next 15 and clinch a postseason berth.
“My message at that point was that competition has a way of raising the level of your play, and it worked out that way,” Vogel said.
Bird likes the way the Pacers finished the season.
“At the end of the season, he got them back,” he said. “We probably performed as well in the playoffs than at any part of the season. That’s a good sign.”
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