If Pistons interim coach John Loyer is to make the playoffs, he'll need help from Brandon Jennings. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit News)
New Orleans — Pacers coach Frank Vogel walked through the All-Star media session with a mini-cam, chronicling every moment of his All-Star experience when he was supposed to be taking the podium to address reporters about his first go-round as East head coach.
Unassumingly, he traipsed through the crowd of hundreds of media members without much notice, ceding attention to his players like Paul George and Roy Hibbert, and the headliners like LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
In a way, that’s been the hallmark of his tenure since taking over as head coach midway through the 2010-11 season, when Jim O’Brien was fired with 38 games remaining.
While he's taken his shots at the champion Miami Heat and the NBA, about how games are officiated, he largely stays out of the way.
He’s well aware of the challenges facing Pistons interim coach John Loyer, who took over with 32 games remaining after Maurice Cheeks was fired. Similar circumstances but not exact, he knows it’s not the easiest of transitions.
“It’s really hard. You don’t have time to do a lot of changes,” Vogel said. “They take time to take place. You don’t have a lot of practice time. A lot of it is in the film room, but change can happen during the course of a season.”
The Pistons, like the Pacers that season, had a young team with playoff expectations. O’Brien lost his team that season, and when Vogel took over, it was his first head coaching experience. Vogel had been an assistant with the Pacers from 2007-11 after being an assistant and scout before that.
He didn’t have the playing experience most players feel they need when talking about a prospective head coach, and as such, he didn’t walk in with a big ego. Instead, his role as assistant, one more of a diplomat than task master, helped the transition.
He acknowledged players can always view an interim coach as a seat-warmer, but it depends on the players and the overall team construct.
“I think it’s different in every case,” Vogel said. “In my case, the relationships with the players I had as an assistant coach helped me, in terms of organizing plans.”
Vogel led the Pacers to a 20-18 finish as interim head coach, as the Pacers’ 37 wins were enough to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs, where they lost to the Bulls in five. From that point on, the Pacers have been on steady climb to the top of the East standings, going from giving the Heat a scare in the 2012 semis to an all-out nightmare in the conference finals last spring, where they took the eventual champions to a game 7.
Loyer had been with both Lawrence Frank and Cheeks before getting what looks to be a 32-game tryout, as Loyer (49 years old) is a little older than Vogel, then 37, was when getting his shot.
Making an impression on the decision-makers wasn’t on the top of his mind, and doesn’t believe it’ll be Loyer’s modus operandi, other than Loyer’s declaration that making the playoffs is indeed the goal for the remainder of the season.
If Loyer can earn the trust of Andre Drummond, and the core of the Pistons’ roster, it bodes well for his chances .
“I sort of removed my individual goals from the equation and did what was best for the Pacers,” Vogel said. “In our case it was a lot of young guys who needed to develop. I just wanted to respect the organization and do what was best for the team.”