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Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Steve Kerr, successor of a player's coach

By Ethan Sherwood Strauss


OAKLAND, Calif. -- In Steve Kerr’s introductory news conference as Golden State Warriors head coach, he had to answer legitimate questions about how he’d fare in the environment that swallowed up Mark Jackson. These questions were a little more pointed than if the Warriors had hired a coach with experience. Though a basketball lifer and former GM, Kerr is a neophyte as a coach, vulnerable to skepticism.

Fortunately for the Warriors, there’s perhaps no better person to answer the question of “Why Steve Kerr?” than Steve Kerr. The logical quality of the answers ceases to matter, or at least, starts to feel immaterial as Kerr turns on that effortlessly agreeable charm. Maybe he’s the perfect coach for this Warriors team, but that’s not entirely what got him $25 million for a first-time coaching job. For all the speculation on what played a factor in Kerr’s hiring, it might be wise to look back on what got his predecessor a gig. Jackson, no stranger to charisma himself, famously swept Joe Lacob off his feet in an interview. Kerr sweeps metaphorical feet better than Bruce Bowen swept under real ones.

Steve Kerr
Steve Kerr said Tuesday that "when I sat down with the Warriors, it just clicked."
Kerr’s charisma is packaged differently from Jackson’s as it’s a flaunted kind of humility. He spoke of how he bonded with Golden State’s owner and GM over confessed errors, saying, “Bob [Myers] and Joe [Lacob] admitted mistakes along the way in the process the last few years, and I shared mistakes that I made in Phoenix as a general manager.”

Jackson had a gift for humor, but self-deprecation wasn’t in his repertoire. The new guy is presented as a consensus builder who acknowledges his own fallibility. Warriors management hopes this makes for a significantly less rocky relationship than what they just went through.

Perhaps they played a part in roiling the waters, but Golden State upper management just didn’t want to commit to what had become a turbulent situation with Jackson. Kerr presents himself as someone who’s more in concert with his bosses, saying, “The most important thing that I’ve learned in sports is owner, GM, coach, that troika, that relationship between those three is critical. The relationship between those three will determine how you get through those bumps, that adversity.”

Jackson often credited management, but he certainly didn’t frame himself as part of a harmonious team. He oversaw an insular locker room, for better or worse. He advertised himself as the player’s coach. Kerr is the golf-playing owner’s coach.

What remains to be seen is how the players react to the owner’s coach. Stephen Curry might be a Kerr fan, but he was certainly no fan of Mark Jackson’s firing. Golden State’s other players greeted the news of Kerr’s hire with radio silence on social media. Jackson has been wrenched away from the unique culture he built, a culture that heavily incorporated his religious faith.

Kerr offered his view of how he might address that disrupted culture.

“I’m extremely open-minded. I believe in the sanctity of the locker room. Phil Jackson was a very spiritual coach. He was more a Buddhist than a Christian. But it didn’t matter. He gave his players space to think and some quiet time before games. I anticipate doing something similar, but each player has to develop his own routine and what makes him comfortable before a game,” Kerr said.

If Kerr can’t mimic Jackson’s brand of bringing players together, he can at least give players the space to be themselves. That seems to be the plan anyway. As for other personnel-based plans the former GM is mostly mum -- save for one thought on what Golden State’s roster could use going forward. Kerr recounted a detail from his interview with Lacob and Myers, saying, “I did tell them I think this team could use a stretch 4. I think a shooting 4 could really make things difficult on the opposition.”

Does that mean Golden State is pushing hard to acquire Kevin Love? Such an endeavor isn’t part of Kerr’s purview anymore. That’s for Bob Myers to figure out now that Kerr has signed a contract. The new coach’s job is to maintain a tricky balance of simultaneously leading and following.