The Charlotte Bobcats have fired their rookie head coach, Mike Dunlap after only one season. He came in out of nowhere (St. John’s assistant), said the right things, started hot (7-5), didn’t freak out when things went bad, tripled the win total from the previous season and got fired.
I’m not crying over this. I don’t completely get it but I’m sort of ok with it. Not knowing details and honestly, completely spit-balling here, I sort of could see how a one-and-done hire worked for Dunlap. He never really, truly impressed me as a coach. I’m not really the one he was aiming to impress, Michael Jordan, Rich Cho and Rod Higgins were, but he never made me think “Wow, this guy has his stuff together and knows where this team is going.”
Dunlap was charged with player development. I believe he was a place-marker but a good one, from the beginning. He wasn’t going to lead this team, in 3 years to the Playoffs. Coach Dunlap was here to take younger players and give them tools that would lead to success down the road. He did that and to me, that’s a huge reason to be upset with this firing. He did what was expected and asked of him, and still lost his job at the end of one crappy season.
After 9 seasons, the Bobcats have had 5 coaches. Next season will be the 4th season in a row to start off with a new coach. Larry Brown kicked off ’10-’11, Paul Silas was hired halfway, led the lockout shortened ’11-’12 season (all time worst winning percentage), and Dunlap worked the ’12-’13 season. I don’t know if you can point to a team with more turnover with head coaches but there it is…your Charlotte Bobcats.
People will be shocked and pissed. What I’m feeling more than anything is confusion. This franchise has become a rudderless ship. You rarely hear from owner Michael Jordan. Rich Cho and Rod Higgins (still don’t know who is in charge) send out press releases that are polished up so fine that you can’t read anything into them. The only real coverage the team sees is from the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell, who does a great job of covering, but I don’t think he’s really given enough clout within the organization to challenge the decisions made or the people who made them to give an explanation. So what does this move mean? It means at least one more off-season and probably another season of not-knowing.
That’s what bothers me most: Not knowing who is pulling the strings, how things went down, who got pissed at who, why fire a guy who did his job after one season? It doesn’t make sense. However, being who I am, the knowledge and cynical/logical reasoning that I possess, I can sort of step back from it and squint and turn my head and try to make sense of it. I’m that good at feeling at reaching through the strange waves sent out through Bobcats nation, that I can explain the inexplicable.
My first thought, after I picked my jaw up off my lap in the car when I heard it on the radio was: Well, MJ or somebody didn’t like what they heard in the exit interview. Every team and most good organizations have exit interviews when a season ends or someone retires or quits. The Bobcats talk things over like every team will once things end for the season. Let the dust settle, analyze what happened, see what is left moving forward and then talk it out. My theory is, Mike Dunlap simply didn’t say the right things and was on a different wavelength from the MJ/Cho/Higgins mind-trust. This could be as simple as what to do with specific players or as broad as the direction and timetable for the team. Once I got home and saw the stories from AP’s Steve Reed and the Gaston Gazette’s Richard Walker, my suspicion was slightly confirmed. The email sent to season ticket holders said “Rich Cho and I conducted our season-ending review and met with coach Dunlap to reflect on this season,” Higgins said. ”As an organization, it was decided that we needed to make a change with the head coach position.” Ouchies! Read that as “Yeah, talked to Coach Dunlap and…well….he’s fired. Didn’t help his case at all!” But hey at least they wish him the best.
I thought about it a bit more on my way home from work. I put myself in the front office at 333. E. Trade and thought “Why would I have wanted Dunlap gone?” It didn’t just happen in an exit interview. There must be some build up that led to Coach being talked to and likely challenged on some things in the pre-vacation discussion. I thought back to his hire, his demeanor and his staff. I honestly, seriously, not saying I told you so, thought “well, I don’t like any of those things.” First of all, he made lists. Like he took 8th grade expository writing and held onto it for life. Second, did I mention how breaking things down into bullet points in every interview or discussion rubs me the wrong way? Finally, cold, calculated listy sort of way he talked in post game, pre-game, and when he was miked up drove me nuts. If he talked to me in a huddle, all season, the way he talked in that last Orlando game, I’d lose my ever-loving mind! ”Gentlemen, we need to get on the boards. First, gentlemen, you have to jump. Next, Biz this is for you, you have to put your hands on the ball. And finally, gentlemen, you have to come down with the ball in your hands. Now, this, gentlemen, is something you have to do.” It just irked me and I was on my couch almost 3 hours away.
When he was hired, I, as we all did, thought “Who the hell is this guy?” He was a journeyman, to say the least but he had some good credentials and glowing reviews from people like Steve Lavin, George Karl and well, Michael Jordan did hire him, right? An assistant, on a college team, that wasn’t that great…yikes. But you know, he said some stuff that made sense and he did that whole list thing in the press conference, he seemed to know what to do and how to do it. Plus that whole 7-5 start, I mean you have to like that beginning to an NBA head coaching career. Nope. You don’t. I’m sure Nixon had a great first 100 days in office, it doesn’t mean he was meant to be president. I think that’s what won him the interview: Seeming to have it together and to be ready and have executable goals. It just didn’t work out that way. The Bobcats’ second or third best player got hurt and they gave Janero Pargo a good bit of run. The rotations and minutes given were horrible and then the whole Ben Gordon fiasco – Having it together and seeming to have it together are two totally different things. Again, I think some of my theories are confirmed in a post by Scott Fowler on the subject.
Can you name any of the assistants under Mike Dunlap? You know, other than diehard fans, I doubt many people can list much more than Stephen Silas and maybe Dan Leibovitz and that’s just because they gave the halftime interviews. Rick Brunson and Brian Winters did nothing for me. They had no pedigree to speak of they weren’t high on anyone’s list or recently considered for head coaching positions. A first year coach, to me, needs a guy that the players know, respect and will listen to when the head guy isn’t getting through. Brian Winters had some years under his belt but I wonder how much tread was left on those tires? I’m very big on assistant coaches because I believe these are the day-in- day-out contacts for the players to lean on and work with. Would Dwight Howard be the player he is today without Patrick Ewing as his assistant? Would the Celtics have won that championship without Thibideau? His assistants were somewhat weak, in my opinion and I could be wrong but I doubt it.
Tripling the win total is a nice thing to say and a great accomplishment, if you go from 20 wins to 60. The Bobcats went from 7 wins to 21 and they were given 16 more games in which to do it. Dunlap might not have deserved to be fired but I can see justification why he was. Fowler said “Someone who would know told me, Dunlap received a number of negative evaluations from current Bobcat players — not only for those occasional long practices but for his general demeanor with them.” It’s not just Ben Gordon. The players didn’t get Mike Dunlap fired though, Mike Dunlap was fired for a multitude of reasons but sadly, we’ll likely never know very many of them. Just hope the next coach is a big name and stays for a very long time.