How to Prematurely Evaluate a Head Coach Hiring

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Published: June 17, 2015

With about two and half weeks now passed since the Pelicans announced that Alvin Gentry, the lead assistant coach for the newly crowned NBA champion Golden State Warriors, would be the team’s next head coach, there has been sufficient time to gauge the reaction to the hire from the fan base. Overall, the response has been a relatively calm one, and that fact should not be taken lightly. A more uneducated group of NBA fans would simply look at the easiest stat to pull – Gentry’s career win/loss record – and start blasting the hire, ignoring any circumstances that surrounded his prior head coaching stints. Learning more about coaching history and reputation takes only a surprisingly small level of digging, but results in exponential returns from an information perspective. The vast majority of Pelicans Nation realizes the value of even five minutes of well-directed research, and quite frankly, that is awesome.

It is Okay to Disagree

Allow me to be clear – it is completely justifiable to be unsatisfied with the hire of Gentry, as some certainly are, especially given the unusually high number of quality coaches who were potentially available this offseason. The key, of course, is to support that position with reason and facts. For example, take a look at argument A and B below, both of which have been voiced on more than one occasion:

A) The Pelicans have ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in defensive rating for the last three years, and yet they hired an offensive-minded coach who has never led an above-average defense when much stronger defensive coaches like Jeff Van Gundy and Tom Thibodeau were available.

B) The Pelicans hired a coach with a sub-.500 career head coaching record instead of more expensive options with better track records because Gentry was cheap and would be highly unlikely to clash with Dell Demps over roster management issues.

I would jump at the chance to have a Pelicans-related discussion with the person defending argument A, as this person’s concerns are clear and fair. On the other hand, I weep for the person making argument B, because those complaints are nothing more than conjectures. Ideally, I can begin to convince those making the first argument that Gentry was a solid choice. Most people defending the second argument are beyond help, and any attempts to educate them would likely be futile.

“The Homer Test”

I made my best effort at squashing concerns over Gentry’s win-loss record on Twitter soon after the hire, but my justification is far from enough to create an irrefutable case on its own. A quick test I like to do whenever I am worried that I may be irrationally supporting my favorite team is to turn to the work and opinions of neutral NBA analysts who know far more about the NBA than myself:

Screenshot 2015-06-07 at 3.17.08 PM

The result of doing so in this particular scenario appears pretty straight forward. (Links to those tweets provided here, and many of these writers have also written more in-depth columns about the hiring.)

Note: if I missed any strong NBA writers who openly criticized the hire, please share it with me in the comments so I can be as inclusive as possible. I was simply unable to find any from my list of highly respected NBA analysts.

Why the Pelicans Hired Gentry

As we continue to evaluate and scrutinize the hiring decisions to greater degrees, it becomes increasingly simple to see that the New Orleans Pelicans settled on the next head coach for basketball reasons; not financial, not bureaucratic. By all accounts, Alvin Gentry aced his interviews with the team, and you can be sure that his proposal for his eventual coaching staff was a major selling point throughout the process. Gentry knows his reputation and his strengths, and immediately displayed the humility he’ll need to lead the Pelicans by moving to bring in a lead assistant with the defensive knowledge possessed by Darren Erman. The best teams in the NBA are led by a solid staff of coaches and a head coach who listens to them, not one head guy giving orders to his assistants and players. As such, Dell Demps did not hire Alvin Gentry in a vacuum; he hired a smart, highly-respected man who would assemble the best possible staff to help this Pelicans team soar to new heights.

And, of course, this kind of motivation and personality certainly doesn’t hurt:

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