Bum Phillips and Mike D’Antoni

About 12 years ago I traveled to Goliad, Texas to ride horses with Bum Phillips.

I know … I know—you went to Goliad, Texas to ride horses with Bum Phillips? Indeed, I did. And it was friggin’ awesome. Bum is one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met, and my day on his ranch was one I’ll never forget.

When he got to talking, I asked Bum about his coaching philosophy, and why what worked in Houston failed in New Orleans. “Different situations,” he said. “Different personnel.” In other words, when Bum Phillips’ Oilers were scaring the NFL, they were doing so behind the destructive force that was Earl Campbell. Ken Stabler would take the snap, hand the ball to No. 34 and watch the magic. Over and over and over again, the Tyler Rose would slam into defenders. It was beautiful.

In New Orleans, however, Phillips didn’t have Earl Campbell. Well, he had him, but in a diminished state. He also had George Rogers, an excellent runner, but no Earl. So how did Phillips adjust? How did he change his system? In short—he didn’t. He brought the same offense to Louisiana, then watched as the Saints failed miserably. Simply put, he refused to change, and never adapted. His coaching tenure in the Superdome was a failure.

Enter: Mike D’Antoni.

When the Knicks hired D’Antoni some three years ago, I thought, “Wow! Wonderful move!” D’Antoni was an inventive, creative, succesful coach; who who helped turned Steve Nash into an elite point guard and whose Phoenix Suns were the league’s most entertaining team. Surely, I figured, D’Antoni would be equally skilled here in the Big Apple.

Yet, just like Phillips, D’Antoni never adapted. Lacking the Suns’ deep, speedy roster, he tried to make grapes out of apples. The Knicks were awkward and ugly and eternally turnover prone. Then, when James Dolan forced the trade for Carmelo Anthony last season, all hope was dead. Nash, the cornerstone of the Suns’ success, can be happy with 0 points and 15 assists. Carmelo needs touches. Lots of touches.

That’s not D’Antoni. He doesn’t cater to selfish players; was unwilling to change his philosophy; seemed convinced his way could … should … would work.

And now, just like Bum Phillips 2 1/2 decades ago, Mike D’Antoni is out of a gig.

4 thoughts on “Bum Phillips and Mike D’Antoni”

  1. Love your work Jeff, but you are WAY WAY off abotu Carmelo Anthony. He won a championship in college and was a leading memebr of the Olympic team that won the gold. It’s up to the coach to adapt to his players. Carmelo was worth trading for, give it some time.

  2. That is what separates good coaches from bad or average coaches. I would assume that Don Shula had to make adjustments going from the Colts to the Dolphins. Larry Brown has fixed numerous teams. I am guessing he adjusted some things in each of his coaching stints. Good coaches probably adjust even if they stay with the same team for a length of time. It helps when you have great talent, but good coaches and managers find a way to put players in the best position to win. I am not a Packer fan but Vince Lombardi took basically the same team that was 1-10-1 and went 7-5 his first year as coach and then to to the championship game in 1960 which they did lose. But then won the next year. Bart Starr was a 17th round draft choice prior to Lombardy taking over. It is just not x’s and o’s but being able to use your players wisely. Bill Belechick is another great example. Granted Brady is a great quarterback, but offensively I don’t know of any body besides Brady is headed for the Hall of Fame.

  3. Good coaches adapt. D’Antoni didnt. If his system was so good then the Knicks would’ve made the playoffs more than once. Its the system and not the players, right? Pat Riley adapted when he came to NY. He didnt run Showtime here. He adapted to the roster and played a totally different style than Showtime

  4. Good coaches adapt. Good coaches adapt to the strengths of his talent and gets them to work as a team. Good coaches figure out their opponents and come up with ways to be competitive and to give their team a chance to win. When his opponents adapt, the coach must adjust, and get his team to adjust. If his team doesn’t buy in, the coach is left hanging out to dry, twisting in the wind. Hello, Carmelo.

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