SAN ANTONIO — In a recent question-and-answer session with reporters, Gregg Popovich addressed one aspect of his coaching philosophy: how he gets players to take ownership of their own performance.
Popovich’s response generated national news.
But to one of his protégés, Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn, the statement came as no surprise.
Popovich was asked how he gets players to take ownership of the offense, and here’s how Popovich responded, according to the San Antonio Express-News:
“That’s a good question. A lot depends on the competitiveness and the character of the player. Often times, I’ll appeal to that. Like, I can’t make every decision for you. I don’t have 14 timeouts. You guys got to get together and talk. You guys might see a mismatch that I don’t see. You guys need to communicate constantly — talk, talk, talk to each other about what’s going on on the court.
“I think that communication thing really helps them. It engenders a feeling that they can actually be in charge. I think competitive character people don’t want to be manipulated constantly to do what one individual wants them to do. It’s a great feeling when players get together and do things as a group. Whatever can be done to empower those people . . .
“Sometimes in timeouts I’ll say, ‘I’ve got nothing for you. What do you want me to do? We just turned it over six times. Everybody’s holding the ball. What else do you want me to do here? Figure it out.’ And I’ll get up and walk away. Because it’s true. There’s nothing else I can do for them. I can give them some bulls----, and act like I’m a coach or something, but it’s on them.”
Those comments made the front pages of national sports websites and were discussed on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.”
Vaughn, who played three seasons for Popovich’s Spurs and was a Spurs assistant coach for two seasons, saw Popovich’s approach firsthand.
“And I learned a lot from it,” Vaughn said. “I think my coaching style, I’ve told the players frequently I won’t just talk to talk. So I’ve seen Coach do it before, and at the end of the day, the guys on the court a lot of times have to figure it out. So to me, [Popovich’s statement is] not a big deal coming from him.”
On Nov. 16, 2012, Vaughn approximated Popovich’s approach.
The Detroit Pistons were beating the Magic 75-65 with 2:40 left in the third quarter in Auburn Hills, Mich. During a timeout, Vaughn and his assistant coaches were huddled on the court to discuss strategy.
When they were finished, Vaughn and his assistant coaches walked over to the sideline and saw Jameer Nelson talking to his teammates. Nelson was telling his teammates that he disliked their body language and that everyone needed to play tougher.
Vaughn didn’t say a word.
He let Nelson speak.
The Magic wound up winning the game 110-106, and, in the process, Vaughn displayed that he internalized at least some of Popovich’s philosophy.
“I’ve learned a lot of lessons from my previous coaches,” Vaughn said the other day.
“At the end of the day, he is the best manager I’ve ever been around, and that’s what you have to do at this level. There are different ways of doing it. I don’t think I’ve copied anyone’s style. But I think at the end of the day, you’re trying to get the most out of your players. There are different ways to do that, and sometimes it’s the voice of the guys that are playing on the floor.”Josh Robbins covers the Orlando Magic and the NBA for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him via e-mail at email@example.com and connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/JoshuaBRobbins. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.