Friday, November 13, 2009

Gotta Serve Somebody

New Orleans Hornets coach Byron Scott was fired yesterday after a disappointing 3-6 start. Notably, Scott won the the NBA's Coach of the Year award just 18 months ago in April of 2008, after a successful 56-win season that ended with the team just one victory away from the conference finals.

The Coach of the Year award appears to be "jinxed" much like Sports Illustrated cover photos; winners of the COTY seem to lose their jobs within a couple years.
  • 2000: Doc Rivers wins, then is fired by Orlando in November 2003
  • 2001: Larry Brown wins, then resigns from Philly in June '03
  • 2002: Rick Carlisle wins, then is fired by Detroit in May 2003
  • 2003: Gregg Popovich wins – the only true exception to my rule
  • 2004: Hubie Brown wins, then resigns from Memphis in Nov. '04
  • 2005: Mike D'Antoni wins, then resigns / is fired in May 2008
  • 2006: Avery Johnson wins, then is fired in May 2008
  • 2007: Sam Mitchell wins, then is fired in December 2008
  • 2008: Byron Scott wins, then is fired in November 2009
  • 2009: Mike Brown wins (and there is no shortage of demands for his ouster)
Of the eight coaches above who lost their jobs, the average time between their COTY award and their job termination was about 23 months.

For the eight teams represented by those eight coaches, the average drop-off in regular-season victories from the COTY season to the following season was about 4 fewer wins. (For this calculation I referred to this Google Docs spreadsheet that I created for an earlier analysis back in June.)

Perhaps this jinx is tied to the criteria for the award. Rather than rewarding coaches who help excellent teams stay excellent, or help pitiful teams avoid the cellar, the award voters usually vote for coaches who helped mediocre teams become good. But teams with mediocre talent are not likely to exceed expectations two or three years in a row; thus, when the team's "true" ability becomes apparent, the coach looks to be at fault for no longer finding the lipstick to put on that pig.

Byron Scott took over as New Orleans coach before the 2004-05 season, meaning that he's already completed five full go-rounds with the team. As such, he was one of the NBA's longer-tenured coaches, tied with Mike Woodson and Doc Rivers and trailing only Lawrence Frank, Phil Jackson (if you consider him as continuously employed by the Lakers since 1999), Gregg Popovich, and Jerry Sloan. Scott will surely find employment soon enough; who would resist a man with 82 suits in his wardrobe? (I am unsure of whether he intentionally chose that number so he could pick a different suit for each day of the season.)


EarlDaGoat said...

I was never really convinced that B. Scott was in fact a good coach.

I know about the past success with the Nets but something seemed off about his style.

More to BA's point, I suspect this list of best coaches should probably be best coaches you might not have expected to be good and we did not give it before. It seems almost impossible for a coach to get this award more than once. In fact, the real good coaches like Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan almost never get this award. (Although I can be convinced that Phil might not deserve it given his rosters).

Seems like Riles is the only coach to get this more than once in recent memory (but each time he was on a different team.)

Bhel Atlantic said...

Pat Riley won it three times in the '90s, with three different teams.

Don Nelson won it three times also.

Hubie Brown won it twice -- amazingly, 26 years apart.

NBA COTY History

Justin said...

Coach of the Year is often given to the most improved team, regardless if it was actually because of the coach. For example, when Sam Mitchell won it, the raptors went from one of the worst to division winners. But this was a result of the new team that Bryan Colangelo constructed, bringing 9 new players for the 2006-07 season.