Why Coaches Matter: Larry Brown Vs. Flip Saunders

Sorry To Flip The Tables, But As A Game Changer, He Is A Few Inches Of D Short Of A Foot Long When the Washington Wizards decided to

When the Washington Wizards decided to hire Flip Saunders I was a bit shocked. After 15 years of watching this guy coach soft teams and de-harden great teams, I thought the hoops world had seen enough. Not correct, so I wrote an article about the situation. It never got published as the timing never really did feel right and Flip got pushed to the back burner. This one has been gestating for a long time now and  the timing couldn’t be better.

So after making a 90′s reference most of the kids won’t get today, let’s go into the FCP unpublished vault for an article written just after the hiring of Flip Saunders, which doubles in the present tense as a pretty decent article about the firing of Flip Saunders. Thoughts from 2009 are rining true now in 2012.

Dated reference in…

Ahh... Yes, Betty Was Quite The Hottie

3…

2…

1…

Diddly Doo, Diddly Doo… Diddly Doo…

If one is to have a conversation about Larry Brown these days it often becomes a little polarized to either Pistons or Knicks arguments. Often Larry gets slammed for being a poor coach in NY and having a loaded team in Detroit. These conversations usually revolve around some concepts about defence. After Flip Saunders was picked up by Washington a hard core Detroit fan said this to me.

One person does not set the tone for a good defensive team (KG).
A coach does not bring aboard the players to make a championship run.
Pistons won 10 playoff games each year that Flip coached.
Players simply “threw the switch” at that point of the run.
Larry doesn’t teach…ask his rookies, they don’t play…He bullies…

I can’t help but disagree. A good defensive team is always backed up by an anchor who can protect the paint and help on defence that the wings funnel into him. Garnett is amazing at this. The Wallaces on bad boys 2 (esp Ben) were too. Shaq on the strong Laker teams. Duncan’s Spurs are consistently one of the top 3 defensive teams in the league starting Tony Parker and a non-lock down Manu. It doesn’t matter who they put in there, Oberto/Elson/Jarren Jackson etc, Duncan anchors the D and everyone knows how to play off that anchor.

KG Was ALWAYS A Mad Dog Defender

KG Was ALWAYS A Mad Dog Defender

Look no further then KG on the Celtics. It wasn’t the addition of Ray Allen that gave them the #1 defence in the game. He set the tone and the rest of the team responded in his image holding themselves accountable for playing consistent hard defence. Thom Thibideau obviously had a lot to do with it however he was already in Boston for a year when KG showed up. They went from running the 16′th best defence to the first with the addition of ‘one’ player.

Coaching matters. Especially regarding Larry Brown. I honestly do think he’s responsible for destroying Darko’s confidence which is not a good thing but on the other hand Larry has always been great at teaching young players how to play right. He just never plays them. To this day Darko says he learned the most about ball from Larry and says so himself.

Oh The 70's... Larry Still Made The Rainbow Connection With His Teams, And They Responded

He produces results. Why? Because he makes you play D. Don’t D up? Break the system? You don’t play and your life is miserable. Results. He can wear out his welcome as seen from a few teams that wanted freedom… so Larry left those teams. One coach can make an incredible difference. Lets look at his own results on teams he coached the year before and after he showed up and compare them with Flip who the Wizards just hired. These two guys even have overlap of the same team so it will be very telling.

points allowed (aba) or defensive rank
year 2 rank    year 3 rank    year 4 rank    year 5 rank    year 6 rank    year 7 rank    comment
carolina    118    110    5′th
Denver    6′th    ’3rd    4′th    1rst
NewJersey    15′th    1rst
Spurs    22′nd    13′th    3′rd    1′rst    1′rst
Clips (half season larry brown)    9′th    5′th    11′th                   (its the clips after all and the team wanted to run, not play D, so Larry left)
Pacers    20′th    8′th    6′th
76ers    25′th    16′th    5′th    4′th    5′th    4′th
Pistons    4′th    2′nd         3′rd              (Pistons already had a great coach in Rick Carlile)
Knicks    25′th    25′th
Bobcats    20′th    7′th

Isiah? Check! Suit? Check! Fault is NOT your's!

In the case of New York I will call on the Isiah Thomas Corollary which states that any personal blame for losing is negated by that team’s being affiliated with Isiah Thomas given the pre-condition that Isiah is wearing a suit. Coming full circle to the importance of a defensive anchor: Larry’s ‘anchor’ was Eddy Curry.

When you look at his body of work I think it’s abundantly clear that one coach can make all the difference to a team committing or not. Mediocre coaches can’t. Great coaches not only can, but do. With all shapes, sizes and styles Brown made teams play significantly better. He’s fielded 16 top 5 defensive teams and 4 first place teams almost always starting off ranked in the bottom half of the league.

Compare this to Flip’s defensive rank results.
TeamYear    prev    1′rst    2′nd    3′rd    4′th    5′th    6′th    7′th    8′th    9′th    10′th
Wolves    26    20    15    23    11    12    16    15    16    6    15
Pistons    2    5    7    4
Wizards    29    18    24    23

He’s had one team finish in the top ten that wasn’t the Brown/Carlisle trained Pistons. The year after he left the Wolves Dwane Casey took over and promptly had a top ten defensive team starting guys like Trenton Hassell, Wally Szczerbjweofidj, Ricky Davis, Marko Jaric and Marcus Banks. In a decade Saunders only achieved this once, 4 spots higher for 6′th, when his team was loaded with savy veterans like Sam Cassall who coached the team for him. Even the Pistons went from 2′nd to 5′th to 7′th and back to 4′th.

It’s not all Flip’s fault. The success is not all Larry Brown. There is an observable trend though. When you’ve got the most versatile, energetic, willing, intimidating, un-mismatchable and committed defender in the league (KG)[[2]]{{and maybe history}}, in his prime, on your Timberwolves team for 9 years and you’re regularly in the bottom half of the league on D as a coach you’re not preparing your team to play to it’s strengths but to your preference.

So How Do You Keep Getting Hired? I Dunno Man, How Do You Keep Getting Fired?

I don’t know how Flip keeps getting hired. The Wiz are going to pick him up now. Why? I don’t get it… it all seems so obvious so how do the Wiz reconcile those numbers? How long before they realize the same things Minny and Detroit saw when they canned him? Teams giving half effort thinking they can flip the switch and win any game but often getting stung for it. And how is it that people still think Larry Brown is a problem coach when he’s done nothing but deliver his entire career?

Diddly doo, diddly doo, diddly doo…

And back to the present where we see Flip has been canned. We don’t hate Flip here. There is some truth to the notion that Flip’s teams delivered. He had numerous 50 and even some 60 win teams. He’s a player’s coach who’s always been well liked in the league. Teams try to hire coaches that their fans want to have there and Flip is an easy sell. If you’re hiring to win though I think the real sign of a great coach is not in his win/loss record. Mike Brown looks like a genius now. The mark of a great coach is seen in how the team improves in both skill and effort. If you need good players to show good results you’re just not that good a coach. Larry Brown did it with great and mediocre players. Flip did not.

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