Detroit — Ed Stefanski didn’t have to say anything.
Everything that needed to be said already had been in the opening of Wednesday's press conference at Little Caesars Arena to introduce the Pistons' new head coach, Dwane Casey.
On the dais, Stefanski was seated beside Pistons owner Tom Gores and Casey, his first hire. Mark Barnhill, Gores’ business partner, introduced him: “Ed Stefanski, special adviser to Tom and leader of our basketball front office.”
While Stefanski has been on the job for the past month, he’s maintained the nebulous title of senior advisor, but has been doing all the functions of a team president or general manager. Hiring Casey was the first big step in the franchise transformation; his next task will be filling the front office.
Although he doesn’t hold the title currently, there’s no mistaking that Stefanski, 64, is running the show for the Pistons — at least until he hires someone else to do it.
“I give Ed a lot of credit because he could play any role — GM or president of basketball operations,” Gores said. “I give him a lot of credit in that he didn’t put his title first; he put the organization first. That’s why Ed is here; he’s plug-and-play. Ed can do anything and he’s willing to and he’s very experienced.”
Having spent time in the front office with the Nets, Raptors, Sixers and Grizzlies, Stefanski has extensive experience in various roles and according to several reports, is looking to bring in younger apprentices whom he can mentor.
Some of those names could include Malik Rose, Brent Barry and Tayshaun Prince, likely as assistant general managers. The specific roles and responsibilities aren’t determined yet, but it’s fairly clear that Stefanski is at the top of the structure of team executives.
“I’m going to be very influential in the front office. That won’t be a problem where I won’t have a say in decisions,” Stefanski said. “I have a few guys that I’ve met during this process and hopefully in the next two weeks or so, we’ll have something definitive.
Stefanski said that at least for the “foreseeable future” that he’ll be in charge.
That sentiment was echoed by Gores, who admired that Stefanski wasn’t concerned about specific titles, but with the work that needed to be done. He brought in two consultants to help with the coaching hire and is working, with input from Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem and another Gores partner in Platinum Equity, Bob Wentworth, on the direction in the offseason until the entire front office is assembled.
“We could make Ed the GM tomorrow; that’s easy, if you want a title,” Gores said. “But that’s not the point. The point is that we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”
Part of the hard work is done in getting Casey on board and rolling. Now, the priority shifts to getting the rest of his staff in place. Stefanski reports directly to Gores, but the titles don’t matter, though it could change soon enough.
“I have my ego in check. I wanted to get out there and get a coach (first),” he said. “Senior advisor, special advisor — whatever they call me is fine.”
Praise for Beilein
In the interview process, the Pistons also considered Michigan coach John Beilein, who decided to return to the Wolverines after some initial interest.
Stefanski said he clearly admired Beilein — and has for a few years.
“He’s an offensive genius in my eyes. I’m mesmerized how good he is on the offensive end but he can move those X’s and O’s around,” Stefanski said. “He’s been a fantastic coach in Michigan and when we were looking for a coach in Memphis a couple years ago, he was a guy we probably should interview, but we couldn’t get coach Beilein to think about Memphis.”
Beilein has since reached an agreement on a contract extension with Michigan and he’s said he’s unlikely to pursue any other NBA positions in the future. At age 65, Beilein looks to be set with the Wolverines for the rest of his career.
“He said publicly he wouldn’t have gone to any other job than Detroit,” Stefanski said. “He has a pretty good job at Michigan, with a pretty good team coming back.”