Mike Woodson obviously wasn’t happy when the Hawks didn’t bring him back as head coach in 2010. But it sounds as if time and perspective, including his new job as head coach of the Knicks, have softened the hard feelings Woodson once had for the organization.
“I’ve grown in the 22 months,” Woodson said. “There’s not a day I don’t think about ownership here giving me an opportunity to coach a team for six years, because that doesn’t happen very often. I’d like to think the guys I did coach got better and our team got better. That’s what coaching is all about to me.”
Woody has never been one for PC so you can assume he’s being sincere. And that’s why it’s telling that he went out of his way to express gratitude for Hawks owners while staying silent on the topic of Larry Drew, his former-assistant-turned-successor as Hawks coach.
“We haven’t talked,” Woodson said. “I just want to talk about basketball. Let’s keep it that way.”
Drew confirmed that the two haven’t talked since Woodson left, and it’s not hard to figure why.
To get his first head-coaching job, Drew had to convince Hawks owners that he would do things differently than Woodson. Drew also told the owners he had ideas that Woodson never implemented–ideas that the owners also favored.
You can see why that might lead Woody to think his old friend and former teammate turned on him. But the bigger problem, according to Woody confidants, is that Woody believes Drew was making his case to be head coach with the team’s owners while Woody still had the job.
So there’s no longer a relationship between Drew and Woodson. By the end of his Hawks tenure, Woody also wasn’t getting along well with Rick Sund or the team’s owners. But he says, in the final analysis, his time as Hawks coach was a positive experience.
“It was a great experience,” Woodson said. “You stick around for six years, and you start to wonder can it happen for six more years. Realistically, that just doesn’t happen in our profession. It was tough walking away because I didn’t get to finish the job I started.
“But, hey, it’s part of the business. You learn and grow with it. I’ve moved on. It was a great run. I’m in New York now and I’m happy and excited about the guys I’m coaching.”
Woody still keeps in touch with some of his former Hawks players, including Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. He says he believes Josh was snubbed for the All-Star team the past two years and looked forward to giving Joe “a big hug” because Joe didn’t make the trip to New York when the Hawks played there last month.
New York media queried Josh on his relationship with Woody, who still maintains that Josh “probably caught more hell than any player I ever coached.”
“He definitely pushed me as a young player,” Josh said. “He saw something in me I may not have saw in myself. Now, as a veteran in this league, I appreciate all of the things I endured as a young player. Now my work ethic is unbelievable and it’s a testament to the work and the adversity I had as a young player.”
Someone asked Josh about his “run-ins” with Woody but he brushed it off.
“Every player has his fair share of run-ins with the coach,” he said. “I think it was magnified more so than other players. For what reasons, I don’t know. It’s not like this is a big market. It wasn’t something to be magnified because it wasn’t really that serious. We are still good friends, I still want the best for him, he still wants the best for me. We still communicate.”
Woody was a Knicks assistant when the Hawks were in New York. Now he will be in the head chair and Josh admits it will be “kind of odd” to see his old coach on the other side at Philips Arena.
“I gave him a call when he got the [interim] job and told him ‘Congratulations,’ and I know he’s going to do good things for the organization,” Josh said. “Right now, it’s telling it all.”
The Knicks are 8-1 with Woodson as head coach, a run that includes Ws against the Sixers, Magic and Pacers.
Josh figures a W tonight would mean more to Woody.
“Aw, man,” he said, chuckling. “He may not say it but he definitely wants this win, in this arena.”
Not surprisingly, Woodson said defense has been the key to New York’s resurgence. The Knicks have actually been solid defensively all season but, after some slippage during Mike D’Antoni’s final days, they’ve been even better under Woody.
Woodson is getting a prime opportunity to restart his coaching career after he sat out the 2010-11 season. He says he only went to one NBA game during that time (Spurs at Pacers). Woody says he watched a lot of NBA games and college games on television and even took in a few high school games in the Atlanta area, where he still owns a home.
“It just gives you a chance to reflect back on what you did and how you can change things and be better,” Woody said of the year off from coaching. “That’s kind of where I am today.”
Woody was asked what impression he thinks he left on players during his Hawks tenure.
“I’d like to think and hope they had fun, number one, playing for me, and respect what I did as a coach,” he said. “I tried to be honest and fair and teach those guys to play at a high level.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat