Mike Woodson is out because Hawks have raised the bar

It had become clear that Hawks players were tuning out Mike Woodson in the playoffs. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

It had become clear that Hawks players were tuning out Mike Woodson in the playoffs. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Firings shouldn’t be celebrated. But the message that a firing sends can be.

Mike Woodson is out as Hawks head coach. Don’t celebrate a man’s unemployment. But celebrate why.

“This wasn’t an easy decision,” general manager Rick Sund said Friday night, his eyes a bit red at the end of a long day of meetings and interviews. “But at the end of the day, I thought it was time for the players to hear another voice. Change in sports is sometimes good, and I felt we needed change.”

Sund didn’t feel a need to get into the specific of the whys and hows. But this was the message: The bar has been raised.

The Hawks are not calling Woodson’s exit a firing. They don’t have to. His contract was about to expire. But this is semantics. They no longer wanted him to coach their team. Regardless of what’s legally correct, it’s a termination.

Why? Because tere’s a mandate to win now and win big. Imagine that –a pro sports team in Atlanta shooting for something higher.

Would Sund have kept Woodson if he had a year left on his contract?

“I don’t answer hypotheticals,” he said.

I think we know the answer.

The Hawks’ regular season win totals increased every season under Woodson. He took the team to the postseason three straight years. He won first-round series in the last two, and in neither year were the Hawks expected to get past their second-round opponent (Cleveland and Orlando).

But winning 53 games and a playoff series isn’t good enough anymore.

Few expected the Hawks would defeat Orlando. But getting stretched to seven games by Milwaukee in the first round and losing four games to the Magic by an NBA record composite of 101 points — including an embarrassing 30 points in the desperation Game 3 at Philips Arena — was unacceptable.

Sund thought so. Atlanta Spirit owners thought so. Certainly, the thousands of fans who booed the Hawks early and often during Game 3 — and the thousands who didn’t show up for Game 4 — thought so. The Hawks had gone as far as they could go under Woodson.

All of the Hawks’ ills are not Woodson’s fault.  This roster has flaws. There is no true center (Al Horford is playing out of position). The starting point guard (Mike Bibby) declined significantly this year — after getting a new three-year contract, oddly enough. The team’s most dynamic player (Josh Smith) is a Hall of Famer one minute and the epitome of a petulant professional athlete the next.

But it had become clear in the playoffs that players had stopped listening to Woodson. A new voice was needed before the direction of the organization started to turn south again.

The Hawks played two playoff series this year and Woodson was outcoached in both. Scott Skiles, whose Milwaukee team lost one starter (guard Michael Redd) early in the season and his best player (center Andrew Bogut) three weeks before the playoffs, nonetheless got his players to believe in themselves and their head coach. The Bucks pushed the Hawks to the brink of elimination before Atlanta players woke up in a cold sweat and won the last two games impressively.

Question: Why did it take being pushed to the edge of a cliff before responding?

A focused team plays with equal parts confidence and desperation in the playoffs. That goes back to preparation. That goes to coaching. Yes, players share in the problems. Even Horford questioned the effort level of teammates after the third game of the Orlando series. But it also goes to players listening to, working for and following their coach.

The first game against the Magic was an embarrassment. The Hawks lost by 43. Sund said he didn’t put much stock in that result because the Magic were rested and the Hawks were coming off a grueling, seven-game series. Left unsaid was the cause of the series going seven games. Regardless, there was no reason for Game 3 faceplant at home.

The half-court offense was too predictable (we’ve all seen enough of “Iso” Joe Johnson). The defensive effort was inconsistent. Rookie point guard Jeff Teague sat on the bench for most of the season, a not uncommon fate for a young player under Woodson.

In all matters concerning Woodson, stubbornness reigned. Flexibility, creativity, objectivity — not so much.

Woodson’s six year record (206-286) will not rank as one of the best in franchise history. His impact will be debated. Defenders will say he can’t be blamed for going 13-69 because he didn’t have players. Critics will claim he received too much credit for going 53-29 because he had players.

We’ll find out soon enough who was right. But there’s no question the right message is being sent.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and on Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

200 comments Add your comment

tyler

May 14th, 2010
12:30 pm

Woody's goatee

May 14th, 2010
12:31 pm

First! What am I gonna do now?

Woody's goatee

May 14th, 2010
12:32 pm

I didn’t even reply first… boy I hope I don’t get shaved off, that’d complete the trifecta of the worst day ever.

Rock Preston

May 14th, 2010
12:34 pm

Ding dong!!! The witch is dead!!

mike

May 14th, 2010
12:34 pm

tyrone corbin, avery johnson, larry drew- 3 Front runners??

Josh Chillz

May 14th, 2010
12:36 pm

maybe i will come back now. or maybe after cleveland fires mike brown, i can decide between the hawks & cav’s.

good firing…the team layed down in the 2nd round, just like the cavs did last nite.

Jacq Strap

May 14th, 2010
12:37 pm

CMW, take Hewitt w u

Tale of Woe

May 14th, 2010
12:37 pm

I wanted Woodson gone (and predicted that he would be gone by this weekend). However, no name out there really is enticing. I hope that just because the name isn’t exciting doesn’t mean the team won’t be.

YoJo

May 14th, 2010
12:37 pm

Please Get Avery Johnson! That’s the only way we would have a chance.

Mike Woodson

May 14th, 2010
12:38 pm

sixth? it was a nice run but i decided to bolt while i still had the chance. i’m going to coach a semi-pro team in birmingham.

Season Ticket Holder

May 14th, 2010
12:38 pm

Please… an established coach.

mike

May 14th, 2010
12:38 pm

Thanks to Mike Woodson for an incredible 6 years in Atlanta. He helped take the Atlanta Hawks from the laughingstock of the NBA to a contender…. now who are the candidates?!

Timmy

May 14th, 2010
12:39 pm

YoJo, I’m with ya. I’ve been saying this for three years now. He might actually light a fire under Josh and we will never see a lack of effort like we saw this postseason.

Gilley

May 14th, 2010
12:40 pm

Right, we have reach our plateau with Woodson and must go to a higher level with a new coach who is going to develop rookies and use the bench.

Timmy

May 14th, 2010
12:41 pm

Mike,

We were picking at the top of the draft for several years and signed a FA who is now a 4-time all-star. That’s why we got better…and we’re still a laughingstock due to being on the wrong end of the most lopsided series in NBA playoff history.

N.B.

May 14th, 2010
12:42 pm

“PLAYOFFS?!?!?!? PLAYOFFS?!?!?! DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT PLAY–PLAYOFFS?!?!? THEY ARE EXACTLY WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE AND WE LET EM’ OFF THE HOOK! PLAYOFFS!?!?

PLAY–PLAYOFFS!?!?!”

ChippersLoveChild

May 14th, 2010
12:42 pm

Waddell and Woodson are both out in the same year? Frank Wren has officially become the new whipping boy for disgruntled fans in the market.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

May 14th, 2010
12:43 pm

good move but give him kudos for the Hawks improving the past 3 years.

TW

May 14th, 2010
12:45 pm

While I like that the Hawks are raising the bar, the teams still left in the play-off have big time players at all spots. And while Joe is a great player, the rest of this Hawks team would see NO time if they were on one of the teams that is still playing.

Yes, we needed a new coach. But c’mon, the talent on this team would cause Phil Jackson to retire…

ryan

May 14th, 2010
12:45 pm

How about this name Jeff Van Gundy he has expressed coaching in Atlanta and would lure a big name free agent plus it would keep Joe Johnson here.

Mike Woodson's eyebrows

May 14th, 2010
12:46 pm

Hey, what’d I miss?

GIVE ME A BREAK

May 14th, 2010
12:46 pm

Now Joe must go.

Spoke

May 14th, 2010
12:47 pm

We had reached a plateau. I say that advisedly.

HawkKingBibby

May 14th, 2010
12:48 pm

Hire a white coach because Josh Smith wont listen to brothers.

Mid Town Joe

May 14th, 2010
12:48 pm

Dapper Don

May 14th, 2010
12:49 pm

Although I agree that Mike Woodson had reached the limits of his potential here in Atlanta, I appreciate his contribution to the team’s ascendence—the improvement was considerable. The playoffs expose the weaknesses of every player and every team—and everybody has them.

JASon

May 14th, 2010
12:49 pm

Doc Rivers. And not just because he just ousted the cavs.

AlternateReality

May 14th, 2010
12:50 pm

I’m not part of the group that has been calling for his head, but I can honestly can say that I’ve never seen Woodson make an obvious game-time decision or adjustment. Basically, he just stands there looking perplexed or angry when things aren’t going right.

sliderule

May 14th, 2010
12:51 pm

The perfect coaching solution lies in our own backyard. Here is a coach committed to developing NBA talent, loves Atlanta, his family loves Atlanta, and would be available for a small buyout.

“Coach Hewitt remains the same bright, desirable and coveted college basketball coach he was in 2004″ Dan Radakovich

TW

May 14th, 2010
12:51 pm

- Talent won in spite of Woodson. Draft in top-5 for 5 years and you’re bound to improve.
- Completely unable to make in-game adjustments.
- Isolation offense sputtered in the face of good teams. Iso-Joe! BRICK! Iso-Jamal! BRICK!
- Last two seasons: took 7 games to beat lesser teams in 1st round, spanked and swept in 2nd

Woodson tried to make this team Detroit Pistons 2.0 when the Hawks are built to be Phoenix: run, run, run! Use that athleticism! They swept the Celtics in the regular season because of it, and now they need a coach that can beat Orlando and Cleveland. Bring in a respectable coach that, rather than fit square pegs into round holes and force their own “systems”, can use the roster he has to overachieve.

Diq

May 14th, 2010
12:51 pm

I definitely agree with the decision. The Hawks Need a Name Coach. The top 3 on the list are the following: 1) Avery Johnson, 2) Jeff Van Gundy, 3) Byron Scott…Second Tier 4) Marc Jackson 5) Dwayne Casey.

We have an 18 to 1 chance of getting Lebron according to Odds Makers….So just in case Joe Johnson wants to bolt…you need to have a respected coach in place in hopes of luring some top Talent. I know Lebron wont come to Atlanta- but Believe me when I say this…The Hawks will make a pitch. A new coach is the 1st Step. Look for Bibby plus filler to get Traded to Nets for Devin Harris…esp if the Nets get the #1 pick in the Draft. Then you have Devin Harris and Jeff Teague competing for PG.

Good 1st Move Rick Sund -

Mr164164

May 14th, 2010
12:51 pm

Mike:
You will be missed. I am sure that you will bounce back somewhere. Guess we wont be seeing you at the Hustons on Northside parkway anymore.

Parker Pounder69

May 14th, 2010
12:52 pm

NO college coaches!
Look at old coaches like Fratello, Avery, Byron Scott, Frank, etc.
Assistants like Casey, Cheeks etc.
Former players: Mark Jackson, Lambieer, McHale

Basically, the Hawks were taken to this level by a good coach, but he hit his level. We need a disciplined/ Basketball coach, no tricky offenses, defenses.

jay dubu

May 14th, 2010
12:53 pm

The only way for the Hawks to compete for a championship next year is for them to go over the salary cap to sign players. Is that even possible?

CJ

May 14th, 2010
12:54 pm

If the Celtics would have lost last night I would have called for Doc to come here and coach but he’s going nowhere…knocking off the Cavs just gave hime another half decade of job security in Boston. Avery Johnson…maybe Byron Scott…Jeff Van Gundy and his brother in the same division would be interesting…

Ken Strickland

May 14th, 2010
12:54 pm

CLYDE-Where are you man? I wonder how much of an impact will this have on our ability to resign JJ, and possibly JChildress, as well as some of our FA veteran bench players. I know PG’s JTeague and ALaw are happy to see him go.

jay dubu

May 14th, 2010
12:54 pm

Fratello’s had his chances…move on to someone else.

Mr. Phil

May 14th, 2010
12:55 pm

I am going to throw a name out there and see what happens. How about Kareem Abdul Jabbarr for the new Hawks coach. You may or may not agree, but it would be an inspired choice.

Sonny Clusters

May 14th, 2010
12:56 pm

We cried like a baby the day they let Coach go. We remember him walking across that lonely parking lot toward his pickup with his whistle hanging around his neck and his gym bag almost dragging the ground. Coach had a little tear in his eye, too. We was always close and Coach didn’t want to leave but the evil principal was out to get Coach and we knew it from the start. Wearing a dress at night was part of the problem but Coach was never like that during school. We was never ashamed to go out after a game with Coach and hang out at the Dairy Queen. Maybe Mike Woodson will head for a Dairy Queen and drown his sorrows in a Mr Misty or maybe even a pecan mudslide. They was some of the best treats ever at the DQ.

Mike Woodson

May 14th, 2010
12:57 pm

I’ma still be a-comin to Houston’s. I love me some Cali sushi salad! Get in meh belly!!

RORO

May 14th, 2010
12:57 pm

Thanks Woodson for geting the Hawks going in the right direction! Now it’s time for the Hawks to stop playing checkers and start playing chest..

Tale of Woe

May 14th, 2010
12:57 pm

Diq – read the odds again – every team but the Heat, Cavs, Bulls, Knicks and I think Nets are 18-1 odds to land LeBron – Which isn’t happening at all…

jay dubu

May 14th, 2010
12:57 pm

What was Woodson’s salry with the Hawks? Some of the coaches being named on here to replace Woody are going to be asking for big contracts.

Marcus

May 14th, 2010
12:57 pm

Schultzie,
the other day, either you or MB said this a plum job based on returning talent. I agreed then…. but now faced with:
1) the prospect of JJ leaving in FA (with no compensationfor the Hawks)
2) a salary cap that limits getting a headliner replacement for JJ
3) Increased owner and fan expectations, which may be much harder to meet given reason nos. 1 and 2
4)ASGs reluctance to venture much into luxury tax territory for top-players and paying top-dollar for a renown coach….

Is this still a plum job or is there a little bit of lemon creeping in?

NBA

May 14th, 2010
12:58 pm

…”But it had become clear in the playoffs that players had stopped listening to Woodson and a new voice was needed..” Will these spoiled brats listen to anyone? They are a bunch of overpriced, overpaid brats. Maybe if they had listened to him they would have played better.

Mr. Phil

May 14th, 2010
12:58 pm

…or…what for it…how about Scottie Pippen!

ryan

May 14th, 2010
1:00 pm

I agree Diq i think Rick Sund has a plan he wants make a big splash remember Sund put that Detroit team and Seatle/Oklahoma City teams to gather the ownership wants to put all the money in the Hawks the Thrashers are on there way to Canada.

TW

May 14th, 2010
1:00 pm

I’ll take Nique as coach over Kareem or Scottie. Both of them are ninnies.

DoBoy

May 14th, 2010
1:00 pm

I’m not celebrating Woodson leaving. I think that he did get the team pointed in the right direction and did a lot more than just roll the ball out after we drafted talented players. That said, I agree that the Hawks have gone about as far as they will with him and need a change.

If I’m Sund, Jeff Van Gundy and Avery Johnson would be my first two calls.

Angus

May 14th, 2010
1:02 pm

Have they really raised the bar? Or reached the ceiling?

Is Woodson’s ouster really just lipstick on a pig?

Until we see the roster moves, we won’t know. I’m not holding my breath.