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Magic coach Jacque Vaughn is positively too good to be true

Mike Bianchi

SPORTS COMMENTARY

9:09 PM EST, February 12, 2013

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How in his candy-coated world of peppermint sticks and lemon drops does he do it?

Game after game, night after night, loss after loss, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn continues to find the good amid the badness.

"We're playing hard," he'll say.

"If we'd made just a couple more shots," he'll say.

"I saw some good things out there," he'll say.

"We're going to learn from this and get better because of it," he'll say.

Is it just me or does Vaughn seem like the type of guy who gets cut off in traffic and gives the offending driver the thumbs-up instead of the middle finger?

"You have a choice in life that you can control," Vaughn says. "I choose to look at the best in people and believe in the human spirit."

When it comes to the Magic, most of us see Kate Smith in flannel pajamas; Vaughn sees Kate Upton in a string bikini. Most of us see liver and onions; he sees surf and turf. Most of us see the Titanic, but he is the captain of the Good Ship Lollipop.

Remember when the Magic hired Chuck Daly and he transformed into the Prince of Pessimism whenever the Magic fell behind the Celtics by two points? Now they have Vaughn, who is the Prince of Positivity even when the Magic are down 20 to the Bobcats.

There's an old country rock song by Wet Willie called "Keep On Smilin', " and I'm convinced it was written with Jolly Jacque in mind.

"Keep on smilin' through the rain, laughin' at the pain

Just flowin' with the changes, till the sun comes out again."

You don't have to be an astrophysics professor or an infrared astronomer to realize that it's going to be quite some time before the sun shines again on a franchise enduring a massive solar eclipse during these dark days of rebuilding. And maybe that's why a young, eternally optimistic coach such as Vaughn is just what a young, mentally fragile team needs.

If you have no choice but to lose, you might as well put a smiley face on it, right? Really, what good does it do to complain about the inevitable? The city and its fans are smart enough to know the Magic are a bad team; they don't need the head coach to drill it into their civic psyches.

The Magic, after all, are a business with customers who are accustomed to a certain standard of excellence. Once the product of that business becomes inferior, it would be suicidal to start advertising it. Imagine if there were a beef shortage and McDonald's suddenly started selling a nasty, smelly "goat burger" instead of its two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun. Do you really think the CEO of McDonald's would come out and tell you how unappetizing the new goat burger is?

Of course not. The Magic are selling goat burgers right now but hoping some day they will once again be churning out Big Macs. Struggling teams always — ALWAYS — try to sell their fans on the future. And, frankly, that's all the Magic can do at this precarious juncture. They already have guys like me telling you how bad they are right now; they need somebody like Vaughn telling you how good they will be some day.

"In all of us," Vaughn says, "there's a battle and a struggle to be positive. … I really believe in relationships because those are the test of who you are as a human being. When people come across me, I want to them to say they had a positive interaction. They might never see me again, but I want that one time to be positive."

Even Vaughn's own players are amazed at how he has remained so upbeat during these down times.

"If I were him I'd be going crazy and pulling my hair out," rookie Moe Harkless says and smiles. "Except, he doesn't have any hair. I don't know how he does it."

"Keep on smilin' through the rain, laughin' at the pain

Just flowin' with the changes, till the sun comes out again."

In this day and age when the sports world revolves around the nattering nabobs of negativity, isn't it sort of refreshing to have a perpetual purveyor of positivity?

mbianchi@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.