Wednesday, May 27

Coach of the Year

Here’s an interesting thought to roll around in your head while debating which active player expends the most pre-game energy on fixing his hair … why is it the best NBA coaches so rarely win Coach of the Year?

I thought of that because of Mike Brown. Not to pick on Brown while he’s down (there are enough other supposed NBA geniuses doing that already), but have you ever seen an NBA coach do less work? Maybe it’s me, but every time they cut to the Cavs braintrust, Brown is standing around while his assistants diagram the plays, leading me to wonder, for what, exactly, is Brown responsible?

Regardless, Brown won the Coach of the Year Award this season, which is a remarkable feat, in that, one, he seems to have done a good job, and, two, it’s only the second time since Phil Jackson got tabbed in 1996 that the coach of the team with the NBA’s best record went home with a trophy.

In fact, in reviewing the history of the award, it becomes painfully obvious that the media seems to prefer the coaches of mediocre teams who overachieved than they do the men who are busy winning championships.

Skeptical? Well, answer this puzzler: From the year I was born (1972) until the year I graduated from high school (1990), guess how many Hall of Fame coaches won the Coach of the Year Award?

If you answered one (Hubie Brown, 1978, Atlanta), give yourself a pat on the back.

18 years, and one Hall of Famer. Does that not strike you as a little odd? Lenny Wilkens takes over a team (Seattle) destined for the top of the 1978 NBA Draft, takes them to the NBA Finals, and that’s considered an inferior achievement to Hubie Brown getting the Hawks to 41 wins? (And, yes, I am aware that voting takes place before the playoffs but, bub, the Sonics won 47 games that year, so, you know, they weren’t exactly crapola during the regular season).

Or, try this angle: Del Harris, Don Chaney, and Cotton Fitzsimmons have a total of four awards, while Jerry Sloan, Jack Ramsay, and Chuck Daly (all HOFers) have zero. None.

Or this one: Mike Dunleavy has won as many COY’s as Phil Jackson.


In fact, if you study the entire history of the award, you’ll see that of the 47 recipients, only 12 are in the Hall. Granted, two active coaches (Gregg Popovich and Don Nelson) will undoubtedly receive their due from Springfield some day, but even adding Pop and Nellie only brings the total to 16, well short of 50%.

As a comparison, if you look at the winners of the MVP Award over the same time frame you’ll see that 100% of them are in the Hall of Fame (minus active players, naturally). As far as I can tell, every single MVP winner since 1962-63 is in the Hall of Fame. Which makes sense, because generally the best player wins the award, and the best players tend to be, well, the best players.

Not when it comes to coaches, though. Instead of rewarding the Coach of the Year, writers and broadcasters prefer a guy who turned a lottery team into a first-round-of-the-playoff-exit team to a guy who guided a team to 64 wins. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t we be rewarding the Coach of the Year with the Coach of the Year Award?

I suppose there are two conclusions you could draw from this overly long diatribe:

1. Coaches are underrepresented in the Hall of Fame, and henceforth some of the fellows who won the COY and should be in the Hall are, in fact, not.

2. The media does a crappy job of picking Coach of the Year Awards

It’s probably a little bit from Column 1 and a little bit from Column 2, but it seems to me that perhaps the media ought to revisit how it selects COY winners, with more of an eye for the best coach and less of an eye for the best turnaround job.


haizman_brain said...

Nice observations...I never thought about the award before, since it's such an afterthought.

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