SI’s Jack McCallum sat down with Phil Jackson in what’s a really interesting interview with the former Bulls and Lakers coach and 11-time champion. What I found most fascinating though was a nugget from Jackson at the close of the interview about what he misses most about the essence of coaching:
Coaching is about, “How do I get these people to play at their peak level?” Yeah, the X’s and O’s mean something, but you can get people to do that. And a lot of those guys have been hired. The Lawrence Franks and the Frank Vogels. Mike Brown was one of those guys. That’s not a knock. Those guys know how to coach the game.
But coaching is much more than that. It is a spiritual quest. And if it’s not that, you don’t have a challenge, you don’t have a mission. Forming a brotherhood and trying to move it forward, that’s the part that I miss.
I found this interesting on a number of levels because it’s something I’ve always wondered about coaching. What is the most important thing to making a great coach?
Jackson’s description might only serve to embolden those folks who have always believed his success was more the good fortune of being around truly great players, a view I don’t really endorse — unless trying to irritate his most ardent loyalists — but it’s interesting exactly how flippant he is about the X’s and O’s part of the equation. He sort of makes it sound like you could find someone in the hallway to hold down that part of the job.
And he may well be right. Basketball is obviously a game of immense strategy, but there is a point in which at the NBA level they’re all pretty well versed in the X’s and O’s, and perhaps the ability to extract the best from individuals is what truly makes the difference.
It’s an interesting remark, made a little more so to me having watched the Knicks go through an era in which they were led by a coach who was truly an innovator in how the game is played, but as that schematic advantage waned, with teams borrowing so heavily and capably from Mike D’Antoni, his difficulty in reaching his players proved to be his undoing, and continues to be by all appearances. By contrast, the Mike Woodson era has been almost the opposite, though he’s been no slouch with the chalkboard, as well.
Anyway, it’s Phil Jackson talking about basketball, could be worth a read.