Given the chance to change, the Hawks opt only to tweak

Rick Sund with the Hawks' new coach, who has been here since 2004. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Rick Sund with his new head coach, who has been here since 2004. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This feels like a Falcons move, and not the newly clever Falcons. This feels as if the Smiths were still in charge, still firing Dan Henning only to promote the overmatched Marion Campbell. (Or, to cite a more recent precedent, dumping Jerry Glanville to elevate June Jones.)

Stan Kasten, once the Hawks’ general manager, used to say: “If you’re going to make a change, make a change.” The current Hawks had the chance to do it and passed. They found their new head coach in an assistant who has worked here for six seasons, an assistant whose most persuasive argument was, in essence, “Mike Woodson never listened to me.”

Maybe Larry Drew will work out. But what does it say about the Hawks that their far-flung search only led them across the hall, that the most dramatic upshot of swapping Woodson for Drew is that the Atlanta Spirit will be paying its head coach less money? What does it say about an organization that ran out of ideas in Round 2 against Orlando turning to a six-year assistant to offer something new?

What it says: The Hawks made a mistake.

There are examples of such tweaks working out: Phil Jackson for Doug Collins in Chicago, more recently Alvin Gentry for Terry Porter (who’d succeeded Mike D’Antoni) in Phoenix. But there aren’t many, and there’s a reason. Promoting an incumbent assistant when you’ve just determined that your problem was coaching is generally an exercise in denial.

Said Michael Gearon Jr., one of the Hawks’ several owners and a man fond of the Gentry analogy: “With the players we have, we have to figure out how to get the most out of them.”

Why, then, if Drew knows the secret to unlocking this team’s potential, was he unable to impart it during his six years under Woodson?

Said Drew, speaking Monday at his inaugural media briefing: “That’s a tough question. Assistant coaches give the head coach as much information as they can. His job is to decide what to use. As a coaching staff, we did our job. Mike made a decision to use what he wanted to use.”

Larry Drew is 52. He has never been a head coach. There’s no assurance the players who regarded him as the kinder, gentler voice in the locker room will, to use Drew’s phrase, “run through a brick wall” for him. He can’t be their good buddy any longer. He has to coach. (And there’s where the Phoenix comparison fails: Gentry had been a head coach three times previously.)

Drew again: “I’m a new voice … although I have been here six years.”

Gearon again: “We hired the best guy available.”

And here again we see the problem with the Atlanta Spirit. Gearon Jr. is the principal basketball man among ownership, and he’s a fine fellow who knows the sport. But he — like his father Michael Gearon Sr., once the Hawks’ president and now a co-owner — tends to fall in love with the talent on hand. And when the Gearons hear that a few minor alterations are all that’s warranted … well, they’re the Amen Corner swooning to string music.

The Hawks have good players, but not yet enough of them. They need more size — though not necessarily a different center — and a deeper bench. They need better and more willing defenders. Perhaps the sound of Drew’s old-but-new voice will lift them to greater heights, but the odds are against it. Odds are the Hawks will do as the forlorn Falcons did after twice promoting from within: They’ll be looking for a new coach three years hence.

Given the chance to hire a new new voice, the Hawks chose instead to blame it all on Woody and to anoint the aide he wouldn’t heed. (And to save a few hundred thousand bucks in the process.) I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but I have to admit I am.

95 comments Add your comment

LEA

June 14th, 2010
5:56 pm

You’re just mad , Dwyane Casey wasn’t hired..

gt

June 14th, 2010
6:02 pm

They ain’t that bad. Does Boston put a fear in you heart?

Ben

June 14th, 2010
6:03 pm

Our ownership is a COMPLETE JOKE! I really hope that Drew works out because I’m still going to support the Hawks either way and I want him to succeed. It’s not his fault our ownership and GM are a bunch of morons. More power to him for landing his first head coaching job but any real Hawks fan can’t be too pleased with this hire. Like Bradley said we had a chance to make a real change and bring in a real new voice. THey will tune out Drew just like they did Woody. Book it! I hope I’m wrong though.

bye bye Joe Jo

June 14th, 2010
6:03 pm

wow – I am so excited about this move I can hardly stand it. This is so good why didn’t they do it the day after they fired CMW?? Oh I forgot this is the ASG and they haven’t a clue. I can’t wait to hear the spin on how this is a “POSITIVE” move. Give me a break – we will be lucky to win 53 games and make the second round again. I sure hope I am wrong but I doubt it.

joe schad

June 14th, 2010
6:06 pm

I don’t know enough about Drew to critique him as a coach. But I dont like the hire, because if you think about it no big name free agents will want to play for a guy who has always been a bench coach, Without a big time talented player we will surely regress. THINK ABOUT IT

Bat Masterson

June 14th, 2010
6:07 pm

Could have been worse, could have been Avery. Avery Johnson’s voice grates on me like you would not believe, whew.

Doug

June 14th, 2010
6:08 pm

Not real brave of you ther Mark…they made a mistake but it “might” work out. That way if it doesn’t well it was your prediction and if it does work out , well, you are OK then too because you already allowed as much. But if it works out it wasn’t a “mistake”…what makes Dwayne Casey aoutomatically better than Drew? His great success at Minnesota? Like Kenny Smith said it is good to see new blood get a shot and stop recycling the same old names

GT Alum

June 14th, 2010
6:09 pm

Well, MB, after Schultz’s and Cunningham’s maybe this can work out articles, you will be very popular among the numerous Hawks watchers who have serious misgivings about this hire.

If Drew had all these great ideas, and Woodson decided not to use them, doesn’t that characterize Woodson as a very stubborn man at best? Given, Woody even admitted after losing the series to Orlando that his assistants had pushed him to use the bench more than he did, so it’s entirely possible that Drew had other ideas that Woodson dismissed.

We might not know the end result of this promotion for a few years, but it’s definitely not going to get a lot of people excited about the Hawks chances for next season. After the Hawks’ disappointing dismissal from the playoffs, this city needed a reason to feel excited about the team again. This hire isn’t going to do it, so barring some major offseason roster improvements (which don’t seem likely), the Hawks’ marketing department has its work cut out for it. I honestly wouldn’t be terribly surprised if attendance drops next season.

BOBBY BOTTLESERVICE

June 14th, 2010
6:09 pm

Catch me on youtube! TYPE IN BOBBY BOTTLESERVICE! Love the ed hardy, beautiful women, tans, and my lip balm makes me super kissable!

bill

June 14th, 2010
6:10 pm

This move is typical, and cuts the cord…I’m cured!

Best of luck to LD & his Highlight Factory players…

Woody Woodpecker

June 14th, 2010
6:11 pm

What a slap in the face to all Atlanta Hawks fans! I mean, come on! Fire a 6 year coach and then put his under assistant coach in??? What a bunch of cheap bastards we have for management. The franchise has just moved right back to where we were 6 years ago. Just terrible. I’m sorry but Drew looks like a scared/lost rabbit in most of the photos I see of him. I am offficially off the Hawks fan list until further notice.

Ps – go to hell Hawks management!

Wanted: True Center

June 14th, 2010
6:13 pm

WTF this isnt a bad hire… the only possible candidate was avery and he wanted loads of money and front office control which he will get from the desperate nets and we didnt need a desperate hire. Drew knows are players and players love him. If we surround him with a great staff and the right tools drew could easily make a run…a championship run with a different owner…

joe schad

June 14th, 2010
6:13 pm

ALSO i read an article that said the players say that this guy isn’t woodson 2.. That may be true but what does this guy do that makes him any different than woodson? I guess one difference is that he probably doesn’t shave his eyebrows bald!!!!!!

J-MAN

June 14th, 2010
6:14 pm

Very Bland move all I can say

JeJe

June 14th, 2010
6:14 pm

How much money do we have to take out of our savings to pay the NBA to get rid of Gearon? What an embarrassment to htis league

GT Alum

June 14th, 2010
6:15 pm

Doug, Mark is just acknowledging that none of us can know for sure how this will work out. No one can say for sure that LD won’t be a great head coach. MB is just saying that there’s not a lot of evidence that he will be or that this move will work. I think the overall content of the article speaks pretty well that he thinks this is a mistake. Bradley will readily admit that he’s been wrong many times before, and will be many times again, and he really has no way of knowing if this will be one of those times or not.

[...] bucks in the process.) I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but I have to admit I am. Given the chance to change, the Hawks opt only to tweak | Mark Bradley Reply With Quote   + Reply to Thread « Boise St. [...]

GT Alum

June 14th, 2010
6:20 pm

Wanted, there are other candidates out there, including ones the Hawks didn’t even interview. Now you can ask why bring in an assistant from another club who has no head coaching experience (Ty Corbin) when you have a similar candidate in house or question if Casey’s record with the Wolves really makes him a better choice, or if you want to bring in a guy who’s been fired multiple times before (Byron Scott), but you can’t say there weren’t other candidates.

L.A. Mont

June 14th, 2010
6:24 pm

Good for Larry Drew. Everyone deserves a shot at a promotion in the profession they have chosen. Expectations are higher now, and no one knows that more than Drew. He’s seen the rise of the Hawks. And now the expectation to compete in the second round of the playoffs. The 2010-2011 Hawks will be expected to compete for a division title and a top 3 seed. How will Drew and the players respond…come back in November to find out.

Wanted: True Center

June 14th, 2010
6:24 pm

Woody was power hungry and a defensive minded coach and i just dont believe he gave LD the opportunity to spread his wings and take control of the offense like doc lets thibodeau do with the defense because our front office has blown JJ’s ego out of the water and they bought into iso joe

Wanted: True Center

June 14th, 2010
6:26 pm

GT, of course there were other candidates…all im saying is lets stop talking about someone we didnt hire and get behind drew and look toward the draft.

truthspitter

June 14th, 2010
6:30 pm

Thanks for writing the truth Mark, this is not a good move I feel on the brinks of just routing for someone else and not watching 70+ Hawks game a year in some form or another. This is hard to swallow

MathMan

June 14th, 2010
6:31 pm

Mark, did you ever play ball at any level? Stevie Wonder could see that Woody didn’t listen to himself, let alone anyone else. At every level, coaching makes the difference. Look how the Steelers for 35+ years have gotten so much out of their talent and the Patriots of the last 10 years. Look at how Alvin Gentry got results out of the same talent pool that Terry Porter had. Look at how Tony Dungy got results in Tampa and Indy; oh my bad he learned while he was with the Steelers! :)

michael

June 14th, 2010
6:31 pm

don’t know drew, never met him, don’t know of any coaching talent out there, but when you want to get in to shape you start from with-in (coaching/ownership). maybe the talent needs to sit up straight in their chairs and learn what it takes to win (get in to shape). no negativity is needed, they are not stupid, just do it according to the blueprint.

ICECOLD

June 14th, 2010
6:33 pm

why is everybody so worried, the hawks was a good team. one of the best in the league, their is no way that the hawks just going to completely fall apart, especially in a league thats about to go through so many changes, fans are acting like we just didnt have two all stars and the six man of the year and the third seed in the east… this is exactly what makes sense.. no drastic change.. but a good change.. if we got a coach that came in and tried to change everything, then who knows what would have happened, so we needed somebody thats going to know the players strenghth and weeknesses then go from their.. only one team can win a championship, everybody else has to make changes, the hawks need are ok. the hawks needed a different voice who does not have the same offenseive mind as woody, the hawks is still a athletic team, they have been getting by on skill and athleticism alone.. this is not that bad of a move. if you cant get avery johnson, this is the safest and next best thing. its going to be alright. the only thing that matters is if joe johnson is going to come back or not. that is the most important thing. not because it will determine if they will win or lose, just to show what the hawks next move has to be. because they cant move until that happens, and check on josh childress… relax atlanta.. we are making a positive step

K-Dogg

June 14th, 2010
6:33 pm

Is it me or the issue of Slam with the Hawks big 3 on the front but is joe about the same hieght as Big Al and Josh???? Ok he is 6′6 or 6′7 and they are suppose to be 6′9 and 6′10!!! In the words of Mike Gundy(Oklahoma State football coach) “Makes me want to puke”!!!!

GT Alum

June 14th, 2010
6:33 pm

Wanted, when your gut tells you something isn’t going to work, it’s hard to dismiss that feeling and just say it’s what we’ve got so let’s support it as best as possible. As far as looking forward to the draft, that’s kind of hard to do when the person responsible for evaluating the Hawks’ potential draft choices has said that anyone we get is going to basically be D-league fodder and isn’t likely to impact the team next season. The next big news for the Hawks will be if J-Chill decides to come back to the NBA or what JJ decides to do.

Jfreak13713

June 14th, 2010
6:35 pm

Every head coach had to start somewhere and Drew really couldn’t get a better first chance because this team does have some talent. I wish him and the team well while still hoping I wake up from this dream and find out the Hawks really hired Mark Jackson or Byron Scott!

moorman

June 14th, 2010
6:35 pm

ok, WHAT is it that drew can do, that avery johnson couldnt do? EVERYBODY knows what the hawks problems are. so what that drew can draw up a offense, can me MAKE johnson and smith run the offense? can he force smith to hustle at all times or the rest of the hawks for that matter. the hawks EFFORT was more a problem than x’s and o’s. mark, you said it right, if woodson couldnt motivate them, why should we expect his chief assistant to work miracles, because, seems to me, drew was as much at fault for dividing the locker room as woodson. some players liked woodson, some liked drew, boom, it will be that way under drew. in fact, the ones who liked him, may grow to NOT like him because he HAS to change his approach to them now. bad move, happy for drew, but not the organization.

tidog

June 14th, 2010
6:36 pm

The big name coach earns the label of big name caoach. He just didn’t begin the job as “the man”. Avery Johnson was as assistant prior to being the big name. They work and toil like anyone else and earn the label good coach. The hawks went in a direction that suprised and disappointed some fans with the inside hire. The inside hire is usually how corporate america does it. Been that way for some time now.

DawgNDallas

June 14th, 2010
6:37 pm

I heard we hired him because Marion Campbell said no.

DawgNDallas

June 14th, 2010
6:39 pm

Dang. You already made that joke. That’s what I get for commenting before reading the article.

GT Alum

June 14th, 2010
6:41 pm

ICECOLD, I don’t think people would be as worried if the Hawks had just gotten beaten in the playoffs, but they didn’t. They got b****-slapped by Orlando. They were beaten like Napoleon Dynamite in a fight with a MMA wrestler. And they just seemed to resign themselves to it.

No matter how good the regular season was, a playoff loss like that is going to leave a very bitter taste in people’s mouths.

GT Alum

June 14th, 2010
6:45 pm

Actually, tidog, more and more, corporate America is hiring their top management from outside. To some extent, it seems very similar to coaching. There seem to be a handful of senior executives that bounce around from company to company every few years, often with mixed results.

MsDee

June 14th, 2010
6:48 pm

moorman,

You asked, ‘”EVERYBODY knows what the hawks problems are. so what that drew can draw up a offense, can me MAKE johnson and smith run the offense? can he force smith to hustle at all times or the rest of the hawks for that matter. the hawks EFFORT was more a problem than x’s and o’s”

I have to disagree..i believe the reason johnso

Whopper Dawg

June 14th, 2010
6:49 pm

Yeah, it doesn’t look good, does it? If Drew were the top assistance, and now he is the answer, that means that Woodson disregarded his top assistance for six years? Doesn’t sound like a working relationship that would last six years to me. If you were so good as an assistance, you knew all along what was “wrong” with the club and were just ignored for six years, would you stick around? Nope.

Something doesn’t wash here. And I am afraid it is Mr.Drew’s story.

MsDee

June 14th, 2010
6:54 pm

moorman,

You asked, ‘”EVERYBODY knows what the hawks problems are. so what that drew can draw up a offense, can me MAKE johnson and smith run the offense? can he force smith to hustle at all times or the rest of the hawks for that matter. the hawks EFFORT was more a problem than x’s and o’s”

I have to disagree..i believe the reason johnson and smith didnt run the offense was b/c Woodson had no offense for them to run..only A offense and that was for johnson not smith, which lead smith to want to take matters into his own hands by creating offense for himself and we all know how that ended up. So I say the correct x’s and o’s DOES matter to get EFFORT out of you team!!!

MsDee

June 14th, 2010
6:57 pm

Whopper Dawg,

Not sure if you knew but Drew tried to leave b4 but was denied out of his contract by Billy Knight and the ASG. So to say he wanted to stay for all 6 years is false, he had no choice in the matter.

Puma

June 14th, 2010
6:57 pm

I don’t think the comparison to the Falcons is at all reasonable. The Falcons sucked a** in the Marion Campbell days and had sucked a** for a long time, before and after that. The Hawks on the other hand had sucked for a long time, but steadily improved under Woodson. I am not sure letting him go was the best idea, but they seemed to have hit a wall, can beat the teams they should but not the better teams. (Although they handled Boston pretty well). I’ve never been a fan of the sexy coaching change just to make us all happy. Drew may or may not be good, I don’t know anything about him, but I think basketball, more than any other pro sport, depends on the players and not the coaches. I don’t really think Phil Jackson is a great coach, he has only been lucky enough to have great players. But his value is probably more related to handling those egos. Can you imagine dealing with Kobe?

MsDee

June 14th, 2010
7:02 pm

Whopper Dawg,

Not sure if you knew this but Drew tried to leave a fews years back but was denied out of his contract by Billy Knight and the ASG..so to say that he stayed an assistant for Woody for 6 years was his choice is false, he had no choice in the matter.

Mitch

June 14th, 2010
7:02 pm

Mark: this had to be a difficult blog for you to write. I’m sure you hate to bash away at the Hawks at the expence of a guy who has dutifully paid his dues as a long-time assistant coach, and who obviously was smart enough to put together a convincing plan, replete with detailing the new “team” orentied offense. But…just the same…you…like us…bought into the whole “new voice” mantra that Rick Sund tried to sell on everyone when he fired a guy who increased the win totals in every one of his years as Hawks head coach.

This move…in light of Sund’s rationale…makes him and the organization look foolish…and you were right to tap in that. It’s sad, but it’s true.

What we have to hope is that the players take the ownership of the situation and come to play better than they have before. No more half arsed efforts on back to backs…no more no shows versus the Knicks, Warriors and other cellar dwellars…

But, what irks me more than anything is that if the Hawks were going to hire a coach with no head coaching experience, there were two who made a world of sense and neither of them were on Sund’s list:

(1) I don’t know how in the world you can watch how Tom Thidodeau shut down the Magic’s vaunted offense and not sky rocket him to the top of the list. Thibodeau picked the Bulls…do they have nearly the talent the Hawks do? Sadly and pathetically, there were no reports of Sund being interested in Thibodeau. This is where I am starting to believe that Rick Sund is a sub-par GM who does not have his finger on the pulse of the NBA.

(2) If there was another assistant to go after it was Ty Corbin. Having spent a few years as a protoge of Jerry Sloane in Utah, Corbin has been groomed by one of the most elite coaches in the NBA…one who preaches great high-effort defense and motion offense.

All this said, I am going to give Larry Drew the benefit of the doubt…but to tell you the truth, if this Hawks team isn’t dramatically improved and the players are still playing like a bunch of prima donna pansies half the time, I am going to stop watching these clowns. For example, if I see Josh Smith hoist up another 3 point brick with the game on the line…Larry Drew has had ZERO effect on this team…and if I see tuxedo players like Rashad Lewis and Mo Williams hitting wide open threes like they were always able to do practically ad nauseum versus Woody coached teams, again, Drew is having ZERO effect.

I hope to be pleasantly surprised…as I believe we all do…and now the pressure is squarely on Rick Sund to give Drew the right cast…including what to do with Joe “The ISO Mope a Dope–No D—the Fans can Go F themselves” Johnson…

Swamp Fox

June 14th, 2010
7:02 pm

Who you calling overmatched?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by . said: [...]

tidog

June 14th, 2010
7:05 pm

Whopper Dawg, I don’t feel Drew was putting Woodson under the bus. Woodson may have been the hands on micro manager type. Without Woodson having a contract may have contributed to that type of management style If i’m going down i’ll go down doing my way.

bball fan

June 14th, 2010
7:09 pm

Mr. Bradley — veering off topic for a moment, but just saw a headline indicating that Texas had declined the Pac10 invitation. In your opinion, does this help or hurt the SEC’s chances of being a big player in the expansion game?

Dawg Fan in Grayson

June 14th, 2010
7:11 pm

All I know about Drew is he was Woody’s assistant coach for 6 years and no other team came after him as a possible HC. Also, if Gearon and the ownership was so confident Drew can get the job done why did they only give him a 2-year contract. Can anyone say ‘economic hire’?

tidog

June 14th, 2010
7:13 pm

Can the SEC add Texas and Texas A&M. Is that too much to ask for.

dawg4u

June 14th, 2010
7:13 pm

Enter your comments here

ryan

June 14th, 2010
7:16 pm

This was about saving money Joe Johnson is Hollywood bound with Chris Bosh the Hawks will be a lottery team.

preston

June 14th, 2010
7:17 pm

I will reserve my comments until AFTER I see Coach Drew’s imprint on this team…….maybe after the first 20 games or so. Mark Bradley already suckered me into this premature bashing thing with Troy Glauss….and now that guy looks like the second comming of Babe Ruth…….so who knows what we have in Drew……but we will soon find out.