Making a coaching change in the middle of the season is something that no professional sports organization wants to do, no matter what the circumstances may be. For the Orlando Magic, however, firing head coach Jacque Vaughn on Thursday proved to a move they had to make, even if it was hard on many involved.
After losing their 10th straight to the San Antonio Spurs, the team where Vaughn got his start coaching, the Magic did what was rumored to happen since an ugly loss to the Milwaukee Bucks last week. It seemed like the perfect time to let Vaughn go, even in reality there is no "perfect time" to make a move so large.
General manager Rob Hennigan, who joined the team at the same time Vaughn did, said that at a news conference Thursday there really is no ideal time to make a change of this magnitude, but it needed to happen. "You know, as the season progressed we just felt like a change needed to be made and we felt this was a time to do it. Plain and simple," said the young general manager.
"I think as we observe the team throughout the season, we were trying to get our hands around the inconstancy that we were seeing on the floor and there were a lot of reasons for that; Jacque’s not the only reason for that," said Hennigan. "We’re all in this together and we’re all responsible for it; I’m responsible more than anyone and I take full responsibility for it."
Hennigan, and CEO Alex Martins, also talked about how the team's failure to "turn the corner" had an impact on making the move. "We went into the season wanting to see some progress, we wanted to see growth. We just didn’t feel like we were seeing the type of growth that we wanted to see, so that led us to this point," said Hennigan. The third-year general manager called the team's recent stretch a "bump in the road, not a road block," and said that he had total faith that the team would get out of the rut that it's currently in. Hennigan went as far as saying his team was in a situation of someone whose car broke down on the side of the road.
With just 30 games left in the season, the Magic need to find something that can help them propel into the offseason, and hopefully into a strong campaign in 2015/16. Hennigan said he felt as though his team needed to "reignite its competitive spirit," over the final nearly two and a half months of the season.
"We’ve got guys on this team that want to compete. We believe in our players, we believe in our players wholeheartedly and I think for the remaining portion of the season, what should be on the top of their mind should be regaining that competitive consistency," he said. "Going out there and just competing, plain and simple, competing, and doing it with a tenacity and a ferocity and a togetherness. If we can start there and create that, and establish that as a staple, then I think we’ll continue to make good strides."
Replacing Vaughn will be former lead assistant James Borrego, who coached the team during the 2013 Orlando Pro Summer League, and for a portion of one game during the 2012/13 season when Vaughn earned an ejection for picking up two technical fouls. Rumors have swirled that the Magic could be looking to bring in a coach who has more experience for the remainder of the season, with the likes of Scott Skiles and Mark Jackson being two of the hot names.
While Hennigan wouldn't fully commit to Borrego -- he said the team would "take it day-by-day"-- he said multiple times that "JB is our coach."
"We’re supporting JB, our players are supporting JB. We’ll continue to evaluate the team and how we’re doing on a daily basis like we always have and I’m not going to get into any specifics into a coaching situation other than the fact that JB is our coach and that’s how we’ll move forward."
A very emotional Borrego said that it was a tough day, and thanked Vaughn for everything he did for him. "I want to thank Jacque Vaughn for the opportunity he gave me. He could’ve chosen any assistant out there as his lead assistant and he chose me. We grew together, we fought together, we sweated together, and we bonded, you know it’s a hard day. I’m gonna miss him on a daily basis. I learned under him, he was a mentor, he was a friend, and that friendship will last, that’s not going away. But, I love that guy and will continue," said the Magic's new coach.
Even though the team as a whole might not be in the position developmentally that it would like, management feels as though its young guys will continue to get better thanks in large part to their great work ethics. "I think our players continue to get better, and that’s a function of their work ethic, that’s a function of their desire to want to get better and that’s a function of our ability to develop them over the last couple of years and I think we want to continue to build on that. We have hungry guys, guys who want to get better, who love the game, and those are great qualities to have. So, the goal is to just continue to build on that and and not be satisfied, continue to want more, continue to strive for excellence and strive to be great and that’s the goal and I know our players carry that mindset."
The fact that firing Vaughn made sense didn't make the decision easy on anyone involved. Both Hennigan and Martins thanked Vaughn for everything he did for the organization, both on and off the court. They raved about how great of a man Vaughn is, how much of a pleasure it was to work with him, and wished him the best in his future endeavors.
With Vaughn out of the picture, the team can no focus on the remainder of the season, with hopes of building something that can make them a dangerous team moving forward. They have a lot of work to do, but, under the guidance of Borrego on the sideline, and Hennigan in the front office, the Magic hope to be making noise for all the right reasons very, very soon.