Chair still on fire for Pacers' Vogel after win over Hawks

April 23, 2014
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Despite Tuesday night's big victory over the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers Coach Frank Vogel remains on the hot seat.

Because for all his virtues, Pacers basketball operations boss Larry Bird is not a patient man. Not when it comes to basketball. Bird has taken painstaking efforts to put this team together, and wants to win now.

If the Pacers backslide and lose their first round series to the eighth seed Hawks, it's a very good bet Vogel will have a new address next season.

It's difficult in a way to believe that Vogel's job could be on the line coming off his best regular season of his short coaching career. All he's done since replacing Jim O'Brien as Pacers head coach in January 2011 is win.

He was 20-18 in his first season as head coach and 42-24 in his second. Vogel's Pacers won the Central Division last year with a 49-32 record and repeated as division champs this season going 56-26. He has an NBA career regular season record of 167-97.

But this year wasn't about winning the division or even about amassing the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference, which the Pacers did.

After pushing the Miami Heat to game seven of the Eastern Conference finals last year, this year was all about making it to the NBA finals and giving the team a shot at its first NBA title.

Vogel in some ways had the cards stacked against him from the start of this season. Remember, Bird once famously said an NBA coach only has the ears of the players for three or four years. Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson might disagree, but that's Bird's mindset, and he will ultimately determine Vogel's future.

Vogel is only 40, and most believe he has a long and bright future in this league. But he's been head coach of the Pacers for going on 3-1/2 years and Bird may think his shelf life in Indy is limited.

And remember, for all the regular season success Vogel's Pacers have had, they're only 19-18 in the playoffs. That's not terrible, but it's not the kind of record that shows a team is truly clutch in the postseason.

It's time for Vogel's Pacers to prove their more than a regular season sensation. The Pacers have to do more than beat a crummy Atlanta team if Vogel is going to convince Bird he's not past his expiration date here.

If Vogel is to save his job, the Pacers will need to shoot down the Hawks in five or six games, win their second round series and look good doing it, and at the very least take Miami to a seven game series and look like a team ready to take the next step.

If the Pacers don't do all of that, Bird's decision is easy. Goodbye, Frank. And that would be too bad, because Vogel really is one of the good guys.

If the Pacers pull out of their funk and beat the Heat and win the East, again Bird's decision is an easy one, other than deciding if Vogel deserves a contract extension or raise. Or both. Vogel makes about half as much as other top NBA coaches. Heck, Vogel's $2 million annual salary is $1.6 million less than the Boston Celtics this year paid it's rookie coach, Brad Stevens.

If the Pacers right the ship in this series and the next, and give the Heat a good fight in the East finals but lose, that's where Bird's decision gets difficult. He must then decide if Vogel's team is hopelessly stuck in neutral or ready to kick it into another gear.

And if Bird decides the situation is the former, Vogel will get his first lesson in how quickly fortunes change in the NBA--and just how cruel this league can be.

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  • Pacers
    I see a common denominator in Indiana basketball...Crean and Vogel both have post season blues.
    • Pops and Jackson
      have won multiple titles...simple as that, longevity is mostly dependent on winning (I suppose Jerry Sloan in Utah was an exception in that he never actually won a title, but he was in the finals more than once)...Frank will probably have to make the finals to keep his job...he is not and never has been Bird's guy...Bird has insisted that he keep an experienced guy on the bench, Shaw/McMillen...that likely means the leash is short...reddog has noted that it is all about the post-season, and so it is...Vogel's teams have actually improved each year he's been at the helm in the postseason, and the expectation is that it will continue...if it doesn't, Larry Bird won't be getting fired...
    • redonkulous
      I don't think that's what Bird is thinking, because it would be stupid and short-sighted to replace a winning coach that turned this team around after one bad series...and even talking about replacing him after one loss is just bad journalism...Spurs were #1 seed when they lost to #8 Memphis, and nobody even dared talking about replacing Pop...
    • Fire Bird, Not Vogel
      They've done nothing but lose under Bird's watch. Maybe it's him!
      • People are funny
        They have done nothing but lose on Bird's watch, that is funny an clueless. This guy must be trying to get a rise from the comment board.
      • Seriously Indiana Fans?
        Jason... what? Bird was the Head Coach during one of the most successful runs in Pacers history (post ABA) and led them to the Finals. Then as a GM he rebuilt the team from the ground up and has now won back-to-back Division Titles, went to withing 1 game of NBA Finals last year, and had a 56 win season landing the 1 seed this year. How did you come to the conclusion that "all they did was lose under Bird?" when the opposite is actually true. His job was to rebuild them... he did. Now his job was turn them into a contender... he did. They now sit as one of the 2 top teams in the East. Despite the late season slowdown they still landed the 1, finished the season as the #1 Defense, and their path through the playoffs may be the Hawks & Wizards. How about we let this play out before "heads start rolling" because as of today the Pacers are in the EXACT same position as the Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers and looking much better than the Bulls situation. So they land the top seed and split 2 games and we want to clean house? What? (This blog though, why do I even come here?)
      • Not Redonkulous
        Bird loved Jim O'Brien...stuck with him long past when he should have...only hired Vogel as an interim...even after resurrected them and he got them to the playoffs that year, Bird interviewed several other candidates and hired Vogel only under the condition that he hire someone on his staff that could replace him if they tanked...Brian Shaw and now Nate McMillan...he has publically criticized Vogel for being too soft, and he's right, look at how these guys are behaving when things don't got their way...no one in Popovich's locker room would dare go to the papers with "selfish dudes". As for no one saying Popovich should be fired in San Antonio, of course they haven't...they've won 4 titles, and he was in the front office before he became coach, and when he leaves the job on his own terms he'll go back to the front office...winning buys you that...Frank hasn't won anything yet...Bird has also said that most coaches have a shelf life of 3 years (Popovich is a glaring exception to that)...he himself left after 3 years...it is not irresponsible journalism to suggest that he may be done if the Pacers don't at least get back to the Conference finals or even the finals...it isn't a fact either, but in our "find someone to blame" world, the coach is the easy target if things don't come to fruition, the expectation is play for a championship this year...Bird isn't going to take the fall, and neither are the players on guaranteed deals...

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