Frank Vogel is already one of the league’s best up-and-coming coaches. He took over the Pacers in the middle of the 2011 season and went 20-18, helping guide Indiana to its first Playoff berth since the shameful and embarrassing “Malice at the Palace” and the darkest days in the franchise’s history.
It almost sucks to bring it up because Vogel and the Pacers are the exact opposite of what that team came to represent.
Vogel guided the Pacers to a five game loss to the Bulls in the first round. But the foundation was laid. And basketball appeared to be back in Indiana, the state that claims basketball has a more special meaning than any other.
Vogel seems to be the exact guy the Pacers would want as a coach. Seemingly serious minded, down to business and extremely sharp. This might be his first ever head coaching experience, but you would not be able to tell that from the way he talks about his team, the game and the task ahead of him and his team.
“We do not think about trying to end things soon or anything like that,” Vogel said before the Pacers’ 101-99 overtime victory over the Magic in Game Four. “All we think about is winning Game Four. The rest that will come with that, that comes with winning. All our focus is not on the big picture, it is on the small picture. Carpe diem, seize the moment, seize the day and focus on winning this game.”
To get an idea of who Vogel is. A reporter said to Vogel after this response, “Thanks, Robin Williams.” Vogel was somewhat quick to say, no, that is from the Roman poet Horace. Something he had looked up on Wikipedia.
It was a little moment, but it shows how Vogel, despite his seemingly all-business demeanor, can keep things light. And, maybe, how he connected with his team after they seemed lost under Bill O’Brien’s direction. Indiana needed the serious energy that Vogel could provide.
This series against the Magic has had the ups and downs that you might expect from an inexperienced team with a coach still learning on the job — after all, Vogel still has not coached a full 82-game season. Indiana blew a seven-point lead with four minutes to play in the Game One loss and had to go to overtime to hang on to a 19-point fourth quarter lead in Game Four in Orlando.
The Pacers though are a team that executes, plays tough and can score in a variety of ways. Most importantly, the Pacers defend.
“We talked about that when you get up,” Vogel said of his team’s mentality as it headed from the Game Three blowout win to Game Four. “But killer instinct doesn’t just apply when you are up or have a lead. It applies when the score is 0-0 and establishing that lead. That’s part of what we talk about in having a killer instinct. Our guys have been good with that so far. This is a competitive team and we expect them to show their killer instinct tonight and give us their best shot.”
This may not be Indiana’s year, but the team seems to have its future in the Playoffs set for quite some time. And the philosophies for what the team wants to do are firmly established. In a year and a half, Vogel has established the program he wants for the Pacers.
So don’t let some of the team’s faults in this playoff series against the Dwight Howard-less Magic detract from the job Vogel has put into developing this team and bringing out the best in this Pacers roster.
Vogel gained some recognition this year for his efforts when he finished third in the coach of the year balloting and received seven first place votes. The East was perhaps a little slow to take notice as Indiana finished the year — over an admittedly weak schedule — by winning eight of its final 10 games. Vogel had his team clicking and fighitng through the injury to starting point guard Darren Collison. It certainly got them ready for the kind of effort Orlando has to put in to stay competitive.
“I think he has gained great respect,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He has done a terrific job. He has taken a lot of good players and made them into a very unselfish group. Everybody seems to understand their role and play their role. They’re committed defensively. They’re a very consistent team.”
Van Gundy has had a lot of obstacles to overcome with the Magic playing without Dwight Howard going up against the length and athleticism the Pacers can offer. David West has become a matchup nightmare for Orlando in the series without the size inside to match. And the Pacers ability to close out quickly has shut down the Magic’s 3-point attack.
This is quickly becoming a special group and a team that can do, at least, just enough to win.
There are issues. Vogel took too long to adjust to Glen Davis rolling to the rim as Orlando went on a 14-0 run and forced overtime. But Vogel also reached his team in that moment before the overtime period. He reminded his team of their success in overtime periods this season and continued to re-iterate his belief that they are the better team and they will prevail.
It has rubbed off.
“The talent is definitely in there,” David West said after he scored 26 points in Game Four. “That was definitely one of the things that drew me to this team — the talent level, the ability level of each individual guy.
“We, as a group, have grown in the last part of the season in being able to respond to wins and losses. Guys have continued to respond. We can accept criticism from the coaches from film. To a man, we go out and try to improve. We have consistently been able to do that the last month.”
The relationship Vogel seems to have established with his team is much more important. That sparked the Pacers to sneak into the Playoffs last year as the eight seed and enabled them to surprise many and capture the third seed in the East this year.
It is why the Pacers seem to have such a bright future.