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

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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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