<
>

Five coaching greats on Phil Jackson

Before Phil Jackson rides off into the sunset, we tracked down five guys who know a thing or two about coaching to explain the Hall-of-Famer's impact on the game during his 20-year tenure and what lies ahead.

What was Phil's greatest strength? Wi he ever coach again? Our star-studded five-man coaching staff breaks it down:

1. What was your most interesting encounter with Phil Jackson?

Hubie Brown: When I was with the New York Knicks, I had the privilege of coaching against Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan two times when Jordan scored more than 50 points.

Bill Fitch: When he was a player, I never thought he'd end up coaching because I always thought he was too much of a student. His mom and dad were both ordained minsters and his brother was working on his doctorate at the time, so I thought Phil was going to follow that path.

People don't realize that he really paid his dues by coaching in the CBA and in the summer he'd go down to Puerto Rico and coach down there. He paid his dues to get to the big show and people don't realize how much time he spent getting there from the time he was a player to coaching in the NBA.

Jeff Van Gundy: The only thing that sticks out in my mind is always losing to him in a playoff series. That's it. Every time we got into a playoff series, we were competitive but we could never slay the dragon of the Chicago Bulls and then the Los Angeles Lakers.

Dr. Jack Ramsay: Phil once told me an interesting story about how he got involved in coaching. He said he had gotten injured when he was playing for the Knicks. That season, he sat next to Knicks coach Red Holzman and talked about game plans and coaching strategy. Holzman eventually asked Phil to scout the Knicks' upcoming opponents. This led to Phil delivering the scouting reports and diagraming plays in the locker room before games. Those Knicks teams in the 1970s that Phil "coached" were among the best ever to play in the NBA.

Lenny Wilkens: The countless times we played the Chicago Bulls. They were always tough to beat, because Michael Jordan was an outstanding player. We had good competition and I think Phil has done a marvelous job in his career.


2. What is Phil's greatest contribution to basketball?

Hubie Brown: First of all, the fact that he coached in 13 NBA Finals over 20 years and won 11 championships; that will never happen again. The pressure brought on by being picked to be the champion every year can only be felt by people who have lived through something like that.

He's going to be remembered as an excellent organizational leader by the way he handled his coaching staff. He surrounded himself with teachers, guys with great reputations, and he allowed them to do their jobs. He also had great communication and salesmanship. Not everyone was thrilled to play in the triangle offense, so he had to sell that to All-Star NBA players on a daily basis for eight months, each season. That was, in my opinion, the highlight of his career.

Bill Fitch: I disagree with people who say the teams he coached could win with any coach. Jackson has coached some of the greatest players in the league but he managed people very well on the floor. His main objective was to let his star players play the game, and he was a good teacher. He utilized his staff well and he very seldom gave himself credit. Jackson always made sure the team got credit for what they did.

Jeff Van Gundy: Obviously, he's the most successful professional basketball coach ever. Eleven championships over two decades is an incredible run. I thought his triple-post offense brought an organized offensive system into the league and nearly every team has adopted some component of that offense.

Dr. Jack Ramsay: Winning 11 championships is quite a feat. It showed that while he had great players, he knew how to maximize their talents. He won with a team game on both ends of the floor. Winning 11 and doing it the way he did is a tremendous contribution.

Lenny Wilkens: He's been fortunate enough to be able to stay in one place for an extended amount of time. His consistency has helped make him who he is.


3. What is Phil's greatest strength as a coach?

Hubie Brown: The fact that he could keep players focused within the triangle offense and force them to play as a team. That sounds so easy to do, but it's not, especially when you have the caliber of players that played for him in Chicago and in Los Angeles. You are dealing with an amazing number of Hall of Fame players who at any time could break your system and chemistry by being selfish. There have been plenty of people who have coached great talent and never won championships.

Bill Fitch: Game 4 in Dallas on Sunday was the first time I can recall two Lakers players losing control and reverting from Phil Jackson's consistency. If you've see him coach one ball game, you've see him coach them all. Jackson will sit in his chair and let his team play through down points, calling timeouts when he wants to call them. I just think he has a knack for recognizing talent and how to put the right people together. He'll make a heck of a general manager if he decides to go that route.

Jeff Van Gundy: I thought he did a great job coaching the great players that he had. He had a very forceful personality in his own way, and he got star players to conform to playing team basketball. And at times, it was frustrating for the individual players, but the results cannot be argued with. I think he had great strength in dealing with great players. He never coached afraid of his best players.

Dr. Jack Ramsay: Three things: Phil is able to gain the confidence of his top players. He gets his best players invested in his plan and the rest of the team falls in line. It started with Michael Jordan in Chicago. Jordan was reluctant at first, but eventually he bought in and they ultimately won six titles together. When he went to Los Angeles, he got Shaq and Kobe to buy in and they've had tremendous success as well. Second, Phil insists that his game plan be carried out, and he doesn't deviate. Third, he takes an interest in every player on his team. From the best player to the last player on the bench. He buys them books, he gets them special training, and he takes time for every player that he coaches.

Lenny Wilkens: His communication skills have been very good, and I think most coaches are able to communicate no matter who they're coaching. He's able to get his point across and lead the team. It's something I think he's done very well.


4. What is something that other coaches should steal from Phil?

Hubie Brown: First of all, not everyone can run the triangle offense and be successful. What you take from him is his effect on an organization, and the idea of surrounding yourself with outstanding assistant coaches. And then the communication between coach and player on a daily basis. That's something a lot of coaches don't do.

Bill Fitch: The importance of not putting your best five on the floor at the same time. Odom was a good example of that this year. I've always felt that Rick Carlisle has done a great job of using his bench. He may have learned from Phil, I don't know, but Carlisle did a fantastic job of coaching. Phil used what he had but in the end he didn't have all the ammo he needed.

Dr. Jack Ramsay: A good game plan works, and it'll work year after year. Some coaches change their game plan each season. The NBA is a copycat league, so coaches will change to whatever other teams are winning with. Also, Phil is very patient with players, even when they make errors. But at the same time, he holds them accountable -- especially at the defensive end. Players respond well to that.

Lenny Wilkens: Coaches don't look to steal anything, but every coach wants to be consistent and utilize his personnel extremely well. Having depth on your team enables you to be consistent. You appreciate what other coaches have done, but you have to be yourself. You can't be something you're not.


5. Do you think Phil will coach again?

Hubie Brown: I think at this point, health issues might be the major issue of why he's walking away, and will decide whether or not he stays retired. Money is definitely not a factor. But you never can tell when someone with one of the greatest résumés within his sport, within his field, might get tired of retirement and want the challenges and the camaraderie that comes with coaching a professional team. You live for the daily competition for playing time. You love the creativity of putting together the offense and defense. These are the things that might bring you back.

Bill Fitch: No, but if I had anything to do with the Olympics I would try to get him on my USA basketball staff. That would be a big deal.

Jeff Van Gundy: He says he won't. So I'll have to take him for his word on that.

Dr. Jack Ramsay: I do not think he will coach again. I think he's tired of it. He is wearing down physically. It would take a very, very special situation for him to consider it.

Lenny Wilkens: I have no idea. I think he'll take a year off and enjoy it, but everything depends on how he feels physically.