How important is coaching experience?

Jason Kidd Nets Coach
Jason Kidd’s blazing ground. (AP)

Recent coaches with no prior coaching experience

We live in a ‘What have you done for me lately?’ society, so how have such coaches with no experience fared in the recent past? Below, find the five most recent examples up to and including Kidd, dating all the way back to the 1999-2000 season. All are coaches that were hired in the offseason. Mid-season changes such as Vandeweghe’s in 2010 or Kevin McHale’s with the Wolves in 2005 were not included.

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Besides the wonders of small sample size, the chart teaches us the necessity of putting numbers in context. A cursory look at the data would suggest Isiah Thomas and Doc Rivers had similarly disappointing first years as head coaches, while that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Rivers took over a Magic team that lost All-Star Penny Hardaway, who left Orlando to play with Jason Kidd in Phoenix, and was expected to finish at or near the bottom of the league. Rivers won NBA Coach of The Year honors in his rookie campaign for eking out a 41-41 record out of a team whose leading scorer was Darrell Armstrong.

Thomas took over a Pacers team from Larry Bird that had just made the 2000 NBA Finals. They lost veterans Rik Smits, Mark Jackson and Chris Mullin, but retained their top two scorers in All-Star Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose, as well as trading Dale Davis for Jermaine O’Neal. Thomas failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs in his three years in Indiana, before moving on to accelerate the downward spiral that was the New York Knicks of the aughts.

Jason Kidd Nets Coach
Jason Kidd’s blazing ground. (AP)
Kidd’s previous job stands out from the rest of the list; all others had at least five years away from the court before their first coaching gig.

At Avery Johnson’s firing presser, Johnson referenced the old adage that coaches in the NBA are “hired to be fired.” Almost none of the coaches on this list have been immune to that reality, with only Mark Jackson — who just finished his second season — avoiding the axe. Thomas has been canned twice, as has Del Negro, and even 2000 NBA Coach of the Year Rivers was fired by the Magic in 2003 before going on to success with the Celtics.

While most were fired, none were fired in their first year as a new head coach. The only other superstar player on the list besides Kidd is Thomas, who also happens to be the worst coach of the entire bunch.

But as Jared Wade pointed out in his article exploring whether coaches need to be ex-players, the only rule is that there are no rules. Jason Kidd may be the next Isiah Thomas, but he also may be the next Larry Bird, Thomas’ predecessor in Indiana who took over the team in 1997 with no coaching experience and led the Pacers to the NBA Finals within three years.

What makes Kidd’s situation even harder to prognosticate is the novelty of the situation. Sure, every situation is different, but Kidd’s narrative is unique with a capital U.

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