Hawks’ Sund lacks string of great coaching hires in past

Dick Motta was a great choice for the Dallas Mavericks' first coach. (Dallas Morning News photo)

Dick Motta was a great choice as the Dallas Mavericks' first head coach. (Dallas Morning News photo)

(Updated: 1:40 p.m.)

We’ve established that Rick Sund has a difficult offseason in front of him (new coaching hire, Joe Johnson, potential roster remake).  We’ve kicked around the names of potential candidates (some legitimate, some suspect) to replace potential candidates to replace Mike Woodson.

But here’s something we really haven’t addressed: How adept has Sund been when it comes to hiring coaches?

Answer: Overall, not very.

In his time as general manager and front office executive for three previous NBA franchises (Dallas, Detroit, Seattle), Sund has hired or inherited and kept 11 head coaches (not including Woodson). Here’s a brief synopsis of each with a final grade (thanks to the advantage of hindsight).

1. Dick Motta (Dallas, 1980-87): Motta was a veteran coach, having won an NBA title with the Washington Bullets. He helped grow the expansion Mavericks and improved them every season, although they could not get past the second round of the playoffs. GRADE: A.

2. John McLeod (Dallas, 1987-89): Also a veteran coach who had reached the finals with Phoenix. In his first season with Dallas, McLeod coached the team into the Western Conference finals (Sund’s only conference finals appearance).  But the Mavs failed to make the playoffs the following year and Sund surprisingly fired him only 11 games into the 1989-90 season. GRADE: C.

3. Richie Adubato (Dallas, 1989-93). This started a string of colossal failures by Sund. Adubato mostly had been an assistant, with one unsuccessful year as head coach in Detroit. He made the playoffs in his first season with Dallas but exited quickly. In the next two-plus seasons, the Mavericks went 52-141. He was fired after a 2-27 start in 1992-93. GRADE: F.

Quinn Buckner made the mistake of trying to emulate the ways of Bob Knight, his former college coach.

Quinn Buckner made the mistake of trying to emulate the ways of Bob Knight, his former college coach.

4. Gar Heard (Dallas, 1993): He took over as interim in 1993 and couldn’t stop the downward spiral. Record: 9-44. GRADE: Incomplete.

♦  5. Quinn Buckner (Dallas, 1993-94): The grease fire of Sund’s hires. Buckner, who had no coaching experience, attempted to replicate the dictatorial ways of his college coach, Bob Knight. Didn’t go well. Dallas started the season 1-23 and finished 13-69. When it was over, Sund was gone too. GRADE: F.

6. Doug Collins (Detroit, 1995-98): Collins had a decent coaching run in Chicago but couldn’t win a title. He was replaced by his assistant, some guy named Phil Jackson. Collins lost in the first round twice in two seasons with the Pistons, then was fired in year three following a 21-24 start. GRADE: C.

7. Alvin Gentry (Detroit, 1998-00): Gentry is having a great run with Phoenix in the Western Conference finals. That wasn’t the case in Detroit. He mostly was a well-traveled assistant (save for one season as head coach in Miami) before he took over for Collins. The Pistons missed the playoffs in that first year and made a quick postseason exit the following season. Gentry was gone after a 28-30 start in 2000-01. GRADE: C-minus.

8. George Irvine (Detroit, 2000-01): Sund’s time in Detroit clearly was running out (the Pistons hired Joe Dumars as vice president of basketball operations in 2000). Hiring Irvine didn’t help his cause. Irvine’s record: 46-60. After the season, he and Sund both were gone. GRADE: F.

Bob Weiss represented one of Sund's biggest coaching mistakes.

Bob Weiss represented one of Sund's biggest coaching mistakes.

9. Nate McMillan (Seattle, 2001-05): Sund inherited McMillan, who had taken over as interim the previous season. He kept him. The Sonics made the playoffs in two of the next four seasons and won 52 games and a division title in 2004-05. But after the season, he opted to leave for Portland, taking a reported five-year, $30 million offer over Seattle’s four-year, $18 million deal. GRADE: B.

10. Bob Weiss (Seattle, 2005-06): The only explanation is that when McMillan left, Sund went insane. Bob Weiss? He was fired after 30 games (13-17). GRADE: F.

11. Bob Hill (Seattle, 2006-07). A step up from Weiss. But not by much. Totals: 53-81 in a season and a half, no playoffs. Neither Hill nor Sund (who had several draft mistakes in Seattle) survived. GRADE: D.

Many believe Sund had it right when he said the Hawks needed a new coach to take them to the next level. To find that guy, he’ll need a bit of a turnaround.

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92 comments Add your comment

Brian

May 26th, 2010
11:02 pm

Brian

May 26th, 2010
11:03 pm

Harry

May 26th, 2010
11:03 pm

KC in Smyrna

May 26th, 2010
11:09 pm

Even more proof that Sund needs to hire Avery Johnson and get out the way.

Reid Adair

May 26th, 2010
11:12 pm

Great article, Jeff. I had not gone back and researched how many coaches Rick Sund had hired. You’re right. Looking at that history, there’s not much reason to have a lot of confidence

oldbird

May 26th, 2010
11:32 pm

scary. looks like instead of griping about not getting past the second round, we’ll be griping about not making the playoffs at all. Yuck.

Jeff Schultz

May 26th, 2010
11:34 pm

K.C. in Smyrna — Agree. Of all the names I’ve heard, Avery Johnson certainly seems to carry the least risk.

Jeff Schultz

May 26th, 2010
11:35 pm

Thanks Reid. It honestly wasn’t my intent to come up with something depressing. I just was curious.

S Hawk Fan

May 26th, 2010
11:39 pm

Wow!!! Not a great track record and what makes anyone think that it will change?

wxwax

May 26th, 2010
11:41 pm

Gaaah!

I wish you hadn’t posted this. You just drained all my confidence in Sund. That’s a horrible, horrible history of picking coaches.

Still, if his history is any indication, Sund’s next hire could also be his last.

As an aside, I was in DC when Motta won the NBA championship with the Bullets. Great days. “It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.” And she sang!

Jeff Schultz

May 26th, 2010
11:47 pm

S Hawk Fan and Wxwax — I haven’t given up hope. But obviously any coaching hire is a risk. … That was great old school NBA in Washington: Unseld, Dandridge and The Big E.

KC in Smyrna

May 26th, 2010
11:52 pm

Jeff, I just looked at that list again. ATL Spirit needs to fly to Bristol and kidnap Avery this very moment. If wonder if we can find a way to get this list to the owners. With the Hawks luck, it’ll will result in Belkin Round 2.

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Najeh Davenpoop

May 27th, 2010
12:03 am

You could just say “Hawks’ Sund lacks string of greatness in past”. Sund’s entire career is defined by mediocrity. For every hit, there’s a miss. I think it’s pretty telling that his best coaching hire never advanced further than Woodson in the playoffs.

I didn’t like the hiring of Sund when it happened a couple of years ago, and he’s been predictably hit-or-miss so far (trading for Crawford and signing Flip and Mo were good, overpaying Bibby, Marvin, and Zaza were bad).

Gravy Train

May 27th, 2010
12:07 am

Excellent information Mr. Schultz. Good read on muggy yet still cool Wednesday night.
Sund needs to be worried about getting a big man with a good midrange jumper. That’s the safety valve in a great offense, regardless of the coach. Johnson is used to coaching a team with a big dude named Dirk. Food for thought….

Gravy Train

May 27th, 2010
12:08 am

Enter your comments here

Kane337

May 27th, 2010
12:09 am

Oh boy, after reading this Sund should not make a risk hire with an assistant. Go with the safe bet Avery Johnson. Less chance of failure.

Kane337

May 27th, 2010
12:10 am

By the way, nice research Schultz. Thanks for this info.

HawkKingBibby

May 27th, 2010
12:16 am

Hey this is a great one J.S. Im glad you didnt sugar coat it and spoke the truth. I guess if you look at the glass half full Sund is due for a good hire right.

MsDee

May 27th, 2010
12:34 am

WOW after reading this article, I say Avery Johnson should def get the coaching job..come on Sund, dont continue to make the same mistake. And even if Avery doesnt get us to the promise land, at least u wont be the blame for hiring an experience/veteran coach.

dr.maryb

May 27th, 2010
12:48 am

Mr. Bradley

Very nice work on this editorial! Thank You!

Baseed on this research & Mr. Sund’s track record?
I like Nate McMillan for the Hawks next Coach along with Mr. A. Johnson.

Is Mr. McMillan under contract now? If NOT – I wonder why? He was COY in Toronto.

dr.maryb

May 27th, 2010
12:51 am

Ms. Dee

WOW! Co-Sign that!

I saoid the EXACT same thing on MC’s blog earlier today.
You HOT girl! You HOT!

Matt Jones

May 27th, 2010
12:58 am

Oh for the love of Pete, just hire Johnson! Don’t make the same mistake you made with Rivers years ago. Hire the person who WANTS to be here.

JSS

May 27th, 2010
1:08 am

I almost choked on my delicious Wahoo’s Fish Taco! As this has been one of the favorite subjects of those regulars of Sekou (mighty mighty) and the distinguished Michael Cunningham (hail to the Beat Chief)… Clyde would say “Fire Woody!” And in my mind, I would see Sund’s doppleganger: Bob Weiss! I would feel the Highlight Factory breaking apart over a far off deserted island… Hawk fans would plunge into the sea and scramble for their lives… Suddenly I wake up, but a smoke monster surrounds us, it takes the form of Rick Sund… It promises us championships, but will it? Are we dead or is it reality? FADE TO BLACK

MsDee

May 27th, 2010
1:18 am

dr.maryb,

Thx..i just hope Sund reads this too and go on and hire him already so that JJ and the others can mentally plan themselves correctly over the off season and also for some fans (me included) could buy season tks for the 1st time since being a fans back in the 80’s!

tony

May 27th, 2010
1:26 am

Mr.Sund need to hire a championship caliber coach and surround him with high IQ basketball players.

Whopper Dawg

May 27th, 2010
1:32 am

The truth about the Hawks is this:

They were so bad for so long, they eventually hit on some players through the draft when they had a lotto pick every year. Sheer numbers would allow a high school sophomore to do as well in the draft (I will not address the obvious and glaring oversight of drafting Williams over two all pro point guards).

Those talents have risen the Hawks to the middle of the NBA pack. The real trick and where you need real skill, is to take the franchise to the next level. Most teams, probably 24 out of the 30, and if you look at this year’s playoffs, 26 out of 30, don’t have a chance when the first ball is tipped. Can Sund and whoever he hires as coach fix that? I don’t think so. What you need to be prepared for is slippage back down deeper in the pack, reload on lotto, and hope that the new GM will make the appropriate choices. I think that this cycle is on the way down.

In the past 30 years, 30, only 8 teams have been champs, if you throw out one timers, the number is 6. You really think that Sund is going to get you in the club? Don’t think so.

Dr. Warren

May 27th, 2010
1:35 am

Jeff–nice piece and some revealing research you’ve put together. In academic circles, we’d encourage you to publish it in the NBA Quarterly. Of course, the top NBA specialists at Stanford, Chicago, Yale, and Duke would deconstruct it and conclude that there’s a 34% chance he’s learned from all of those errors and will get it right this time. Others would point to the fact that the one time he did well he’d inherited McMillan, just as he did well inheriting Woody. They’d say we’re doomed. Professor Bradley makes a compelling case for Casey, but his case lacks such telling data and support. I’d say you’re getting closer to tenure, my friend. Good job.

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Dr. Warren

May 27th, 2010
1:40 am

A $10 Million Education

(Maybe there is a silver lining for Sund after all those mistakes).

When Tom Watson Jr. was chief executive of IBM in the early 1960s, he summoned an executive to his office after the man lost $10 million in a venture. Watson asked the man, “Do you know why I called you here?” Knowing of Watson’s legendary temper, the man replied: “I assume you’re going to fire me.”

“Fire you?” Watson asked. “I spent $10 million educating you. I just want to be sure you learned the right lessons.”

TommyJack

May 27th, 2010
2:01 am

Not sure there’s a good choice out there.

truthspitter

May 27th, 2010
2:15 am

Conspiracy. Im starting to think Sund could have been brought here to do the same thing he did in Seattle, run a franchise into the ground to the point of it moving to another city, I will move to St. Louis if Hawks move back considering I’m thinking about moving there or KC anyway. Atl is too spaced out they really need a better transit system. As for the Hawks, they are not ambitious enough to go and get a C, New Orleans is so caught up in needing to get under the luxury threshold they would be willing to do something for Okafor, maybe Marvin and Zaza for Okafor and Collison, maybe not, but you gotta try. Also, I would not mind taking on Brands contract for a chance at the #2 pick. Marvin, Zaza, our 1st round pick and Jamal’s expiring could get that done.

Truthfully, the coach is not going to win any games for this team, we need to change the personnel by adding some quality players, our bench is garbage outside of Jamal, we really only have 4 impact players if you believe Bibby is basically done and if you know Marvin is garbage. He definitely should not be even thinking about the Casey guy. Avery is the only person they have spoke to with a good track record, I would not mind seeing Laimbeer get a look but he should not be thinking Casey here.

Lastly, minus the Championship this guys reign seems a lot like Woody and I think 5 years from now must of you that speak such hate about Woody will realize that he did a damn good job.1. Dick Motta (Dallas, 1980-87): Motta was a veteran coach, having won an NBA title with the Washington Bullets. He helped grow the expansion Mavericks and improved them every season, although they could not get past the second round of the playoffs. GRADE: A.

Najeh Davenpoop

May 27th, 2010
3:05 am

drmaryb, you are confusing Nate McMillan (a good coach who is currently employed by the Portland Trail Blazers) with Sam Mitchell (an average coach who is sitting on his azz at home after being fired by the Toronto Raptors).

Fluffy McNutter

May 27th, 2010
3:28 am

I remembered a few of those hires, but man, that’s a terrible list. My confidence in Sund making a great hire this time around just took another hit. I wasn’t confident in the first place, but now even less so.

Avery Johnson would seem to be the safest hire. I’m not quite sure he’s all that he’s cracked up to be, but I’d take him over the names that have been thrown around so far. Casey’s track record/credentials don’t impress me at all. I’d rather see them go with Avery Johnson or else a promising assistant coach that has never been a head coach in the NBA.

SecondSage

May 27th, 2010
5:15 am

We don’t need a safe hire. We need a home run. It’s a possibility Sund has learned from his mistakes. By the way, Woodson was not his hire and he improved the team each year. Therefore, the Woodson situation couldn’t have been handled any other way. The trades and signings he made were right on time. He is due to hit the mark on a coach.

Stop all the options of trading Zaza.

Marcus (aka decatur g)

May 27th, 2010
5:32 am

ugh. Sund = Elizabeth Taylor of NBA coaching hires

I hope he has learned some things. Looks like he slightly favors hiring asst. coaches over retreads.

Coach D

May 27th, 2010
5:49 am

The question here is really, “Who was available to be hired as head coach?” Granted, while it seems like almost anyone would have done better than the coaches he hired, you’ve got to wonder who he passed up on. Tell me he’s not going to hire a “Bobby Petrino” while passing on a “Sean Payton” as the Falcons did a few years ago….

bob

May 27th, 2010
5:56 am

Yerttle, I mean Jeff Schultz, I mean Bob Weiss coached here in the darkest days, the “Kak” era. He was brought in by Guerin Sr. Could we be coming full circle?

gmoney

May 27th, 2010
7:01 am

Seems to me after reading this that Rick Sund should be fired.

BugKiller

May 27th, 2010
7:11 am

Wouldn’t Dwayne Casey be the most logical choice (and closest to what Alvin Gentry has become in Phoenix)?

Avery Johnson will just be another Doug Collins.

Avery Johnson took Dallas, one of the most talented teams in the NBA, and couldn’t get past the first round.

Dwayne Casey took the Minnesota Timberwolves, a HORRIBLE team, and had them playing hard every night, playing with passion, playing with energy, and best yet, playing SMART (a problem this Hawks team has every night).

Schultz, I agree with many things you say, but this time Bradley is right.

Dwayne Casey is the best man to lead this Hawks team.

I mean, REALLY look at what he did in Minnesota and how that team, which was 2003-Hawks-bad, played for him.

MannyT

May 27th, 2010
7:57 am

If Sund has learned from his years of experience, there should be a very insightful coaching hire. However, we probably need to give it a little time to work. Probably the best argument for Casey was that he did ok in his time at Minnesota and the next guy did far worse with the same roster.

I would like to see one of the Adelmaniacs (Elson Turner, Jack Sikma) at least get one of those fine phone interviews.

…and if I recall @BugKiller…Avery Johnson did have Dallas in the NBA Finals. That is air that has never been smelled here.

What will Sund do? WWSD

dagnabit

May 27th, 2010
8:15 am

Have not paid any attention to the Hawks in years. Enjoyed the article though.

Feudfinder

May 27th, 2010
8:16 am

Mr. Schultz. thank you for the credentials. I hope he certainly takes his time and appoints someone who takes this team a step better than coach Woodson. You and I know that Atlanta fans do not want to see another dissapointment, otherwise, he will be taking a midnight train out of Georgia. It is a daunting task, and I wish best of luck.

Feudfinder

May 27th, 2010
8:24 am

Mr. Schultz, I know that Larry Drew is among the coaching candidates. Do you know whether he has been interviewed or not ? Just curious.

Jeff Schultz

May 27th, 2010
8:29 am

Kane337 – Thanks.

Jeff Schultz

May 27th, 2010
8:29 am

HawkKingBibby– That is one way of looking at it.

Matt

May 27th, 2010
8:32 am

THE HAWKS ARE DOOMED….doomed, I say.

Jeff Schultz

May 27th, 2010
8:33 am

Dr. Warren — Thanks. I like that 34 percent stat. Pretty funny. I think that’s what marketing and publications departments are for.

Jeff Schultz

May 27th, 2010
8:34 am

Bob — I feel safe in saying that Bob Weiss is not a candidate. So we’ve got that going for us.