Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon is committed to getting a top-flight coach to replace Frank Vogel, even if it’s expensive, team president Larry Bird said Thursday after announcing that Vogel would not return next season.
“We’ll do what’s necessary to get the right guy,” Bird said.
Because Vogel was a first-time head coach, the Pacers were paying him less than $2 million annually, according to sports business experts. That’s far less than what many of the league’s top coaches are making, according to published reports.
The Boston Celtics, for instance, are paying Brad Stevens $3.67 million; the Oklahoma City Thunder are paying Billy Donavon $6 million annually; and, on the high end, the San Antonio Spurs are paying Gregg Popovich $11 million per year.
Newly hired and first-time, full-time head coach Luke Walton is being paid $5 million per year by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Keeping Vogel would have required a new contract, and team officials decided it was time for a change.
“Sometimes my job really sucks, and this is one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do,' Bird said at a press conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I just decided we need a new voice."
Vogel, 42, has been with the Pacers since 2011, when he replaced Jim O’Brien. He has compiled a 250-181 record in his only NBA head coaching job. His stint in Indiana included two Central Division titles and two runs to the Eastern Conference finals, where the team was defeated both times by the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.
This year, Vogel and Bird seemed to be at odds over the Pacers' style of play. Bird wanted an up-tempo team with more scoring, while Vogel maintained his defensive-minded stance.
The Pacers finished the season 45-37 and were eliminated in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in a seven-game series with the East’s No. 2 seed, Toronto.
“I’d like to score more points and hopefully we can do that," Bird said. "It’s all about scoring some points. You’ve got to put guys in the right place to score more points.”
Bird said his new coach will need to “have a rapport with the players and hold them accountable.”
Bird said it’s often best if the NBA coaches move on after three or so years. He said that was the case with many of his coaches during his playing days in Boston. Bird himself left as head coach of the Pacers after three seasons, ending with a run to the 2000 NBA Finals.
“I don’t think Frank ever lost the locker room, it’s just that sometimes people don’t listen," he said. "If you have a new coach and a new strategy, people listen."
Several NBA teams, including the New York Knicks, are already said to be interested in hiring Vogel.
“He’s a great coach," Bird said. "He’s the real deal. He’ll do fine."
Bird declined to name any potential candidates to replace Vogel. He was asked specifically about Pacers assistant coach Nate McMillan.
“I’ll take my time and do a lot … and get the guy we think we need … to push the guys to a higher level,” Bird said. "It’s all about motivating the players and getting them to play at a higher level.”
Bird was also asked if he'd considered hiring former Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who won three championships with Bird when they played for the Boston Celtics.
“I wouldn’t do that to Kevin," he said. "I would love for him to be my coach, but I wouldn’t do that to Kevin because of our relationship."
Bird said he did not talk to any players before making the decision. He did say Vogel “tried to talk me out of it” regarding the decision.
”I never let my players come in and talk about the coach," Bird said. "That can get completely out of control."
Bird said he expects his phone to start lighting up from coaching candidates.
“Believe me, there are a lot of guys that will want this job," he said. "We’re not going to have a problem getting a coach. A lot of guys would love to come here."
According to The Associated Press, other names already linked to the job are former Pacers assistant and ex-Denver head coach Brian Shaw and former Pacers player and Golden State coach Mark Jackson.