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Is There Such a Thing as a System Coach Hire?


As the coaching search continues, much has been made to the Dennis Lindsey Spurs connection with Jim Boylen. Clearly with one of the most prolific coaches of all time, the Spurs have enjoyed a level of success that has been unmatched in recent history in the length of being one of the elite teams of the NBA and its been no secret that the Jazz have admired the system that the Spurs have built, but does coaching under a legendary head coach lead to success of his assistants as head coaches?

Under Phil Jackson's coaching tree, there were a total of five coaches that became head coaches for other teams; Jim Cleamons, Bill Cartwright, Brian Shaw, Kurt Rambis and Frank Hamblin. These coaches went a combined 204-442 for a .316, a far cry from Phil Jackson's 1155-485 .705.

But what about Popovich and that much-envied system they have built in San Antonio? Here is a graphic of Popovich's coaching tree:

Popovichtree001_zpsc785872f_medium

The unique thing about Popovich is that he not only has several assistant coaches that have risen to the ranks of head coaches, but also several players. In terms of assistant coaches, the three that have coached under Popovich have also seen various levels of success. PJ Carlesimo had a rocky tenure with the Sonics/Thunder, going 21-74 in a little over a season. He was fired in 2008 after starting the season 1-12. He returned to assistant coaching where he worked under Avery Johnson in Brooklyn before taking over as interim coach last season and leading the team back to an impressive 35-19 record, securing a berth in the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07. The Nets decided against hiring Carlesimo the next season and he now is an analyst at ESPN.

Jacque Vaughn is still a work in progress. He inherited a broken team that is rebuilding and hasnt seen the success in winning percentage yet, but still has time left in his extended coaching honeymoon.

Mike Brown was the head coach for much of Lebron's tenure in Cleveland. While posting a very impressive record of 314-167, he was unable to take the final step into winning a championship. The Cavs fired Brown after five seasons going to the finals in 07 and not being able to crack the Eastern Conference Finals for the next three seasons. He then became the guy after the guy in LA with the Lakers following Phil Jackson. That experiment was short lived after he was fired five games into his second season after a 1-4 start. He has no returned back to Cleveland and went 33-49 this season.

In terms of former players, Avery Johnson had a great regular season tenure in Dallas, but like Mike Brown was unable to take his team to the chip. In the 2006-07 season, the Mavs finished the season with a league best record 67-15 before the ultimate collapse to the Warriors in the first round. Once he went to NJ/Brooklyn, he never was able to gain any traction, finishing his tenure with a winning % of .341. Vinny Del Negro was hired by the Chicago Bulls in 08-09 and had two twin seasons with the team at 41-41. He then went to the Clips and was able to have a decent track record before ultimately being replaced by Doc Rivers this past season. In four of VDN five seasons, he led his team to the playoffs, although only advancing to the conference semis once, where the Clips were swept by the Spurs in the second round. VDN now works as an analyst on NBATV. Monty Williams became the youngest head coach in the NBA at 38 years old (since lost the title to Brad Stevens) in 2010-11. He has coached some pretty bad New Orleans teams since Chris Paul left and has managed to keep his head above water, albeit barely. He ranked as 19th in the latest ESPN Head Coach ratings.

So where does this leave us? When it comes to coaching trees of legendary coaches, it appears that success of the teacher does not necessarily equal success of the student. While clearly those coming from the Spurs organization outclassed those from the Bulls/Lakers of Phil Jackson, there has yet to be a case where the hire of a coach has translated into a successful transference of the preceding organization's success. While we are all envious of the success Gregg Popovich has experienced, history tells us that Boylen, nor any other student of Pops, Sloan, Jackson or others would give us reasonable expectations of continuing that level of coaching system here based on that experience alone.

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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