Graduating high school in Wildwood, N.J.
When you graduated from high school, what did you think you wanted to be as an adult?
An orthopedic surgeon making time to help coach my kids’ basketball teams.
Was there an event in the last 20 years that had a great impact on your aspirations and/or career path?
I was inspired by the story of Kentucky’s turnaround and recovery from harsh NCAA sanctions under Rick Pitino. Specifically, the 1992 Duke-Kentucky NCAA tournament game (the greatest college basketball game ever played) and UK’S dominant run to the 1993 Final Four. The way Pitino used positive energy and a relentless work ethic while making the game fun inspired me to pursue coaching as a full-time profession.
Where/what do you want to be 20 years from now?
Head coach of the Indiana Pacers competing for yet another NBA Championship and earning longevity comparisons to Jerry Sloan.
Coach, Indiana Pacers
Frank Vogel specializes in making the difficult seem routine.
As a 13-year-old, he appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman,” spinning a basketball on the end of a toothbrush as he brushed his teeth.
After three years as a Division III college basketball player and pre-med student at Juniata College in Pennsylvania—and with no connections to help him—he transferred to the University of Kentucky and convinced coaches Rick Pitino and Jim O’Brien to hire him as a student manager so he could learn coaching.
And last year, as interim coach of the Indiana Pacers, he guided the team to a 20-18 record and its first playoff appearance in five years after taking over for O’Brien, his longtime mentor.
Being asked to replace O’Brien was “the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life,” Vogel said. But O’Brien made the transition relatively painless. When Pacers General Manager Larry Bird called to say that O’Brien was being fired, “I was speechless,” Vogel said. “Silent. Before I could say a word, Jim O’Brien interjects. ‘Frank, it’s OB here. I’m on this call, too. I want to let you know this is the right thing for the Pacers and I’m 100 percent in support of this move.’ At that point, it became a lot easier.”
Vogel sees himself in a great position now. He loves Indianapolis—“There’s no better place in the country to raise a family”—and hopes he and his wife, Jen, and their daughters, ages 7 and 5, will be here for a long time. He’s also young enough to relate to his players in a way that older coaches perhaps can’t.
Vogel calls his experience “one of those perseverance stories.” Since teams tend to take on the personality of their coaches, he hopes his approach rubs off on the Pacers.
“What I am encouraging my team to do is to dream big and work your ass off to get there,” he said. “I’m not afraid of raising expectations and raising hopes and have our guys chase after it.”•