When a team hires a new coach, many expect that coach's first meeting with the local media to be calm, not addressing the problems that the coach may have had previously. That simply was not the case in Orlando on Friday.
A mere hour and a half after formally announcing the hiring of Scott Skiles, Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, CEO Alex Martins and Skiles met with the assembled media. As you might expect, Skiles faced questions about the roster, something he didn't want to dive too deep into; his previous coaching stops; and what he envisions he can do with his new team. The 51-year-old former Magic point guard was not afraid to speak his mind, a refreshing change from the usual "coach speak" new hires usually dish out.
While you could sense Skiles' intensity and the seriousness with which he approaches his new job, there was also a certain sense of lightheartedness. For example, Hennigan, the Magic's young, up-and coming general manager, opened the presser with some remarks, he said, "Scott brings a great skill set to our organization as a head coach, I could talk on and on about the good things he’ll bring."
"Go ahead," said Skiles with a laugh."
During his own opening remarks, Skiles talked about how the assembled group of media was "the biggest crowd I've spoken in front of since I went to the Fortress of Solitude, so I apologize in advance if I'm a little rusty." Later, when talking about what his goal were for the team, the former gritty point guard almost went with a full impersonation of former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Mora's famous "Playoffs" rant. Near the end of the press conference, Martins was asked if this was a move that could cater to the fans some. Following his remarks, Skiles joked that "only fans over 50" would remember his playing days with the team, and that "younger fans don't even know that I ever played here."
But Skiles' jokes weren't the only welcome sign in Friday's press conference. He talked at length about how he wants this team to go from a bottom-five defensive team to a top-five defensive team as soon as next season. Skiles mentioned many times that it was about "longer-term goals" and making sure that, throughout the season, they're putting the work in every day to reach those goals.
"We want to have a winning record, and the reason I don’t want to just say 'playoffs,' and, it may not continue this way, but you’ve been able to have a losing record and make the playoffs in the East," he said. "If our goal now is to have a losing record and get the eight seed every year, that’s pretty pitiful. We want to have a winning record, and I know that’s a tremendous jump from where we are, but you gotta put that bar up there."
Orlando's new coach also talked at length about his reported tiff with Tobias Harris while Harris was a member of the Milwaukee Bucks during his rookie season and the first half of half of his second season.
"We have a great relationship; I’m positive Tobias would say that as well," said Skiles. He went on to talk about how he was a big factor in the team drafting Harris, and that Harris was just caught between to players who, at the time, were more ready on one end of the floor than Harris may have been. Skiles also mentioned that, during Tobias' first year when he was not playing as much, Skiles never once told anyone within the Bucks organization that he didn't believe in the 6-foot-8 combo forward.
Skiles admitted that he's had disagreements with his players in the past. "I won't deny that there might've been a handful of times I butted heads with guys. I'm never looking for confrontation, but I'm not afraid of it," he said. While he may have had some issues with some players, Skiles feels as though many remain on his side.
"I would say that in the high percentage of players that have played for me have enjoyed playing [and] working for me, and I’ve enjoyed working with them."
In a day and age where coaches tell the media less and less, Skiles' openness is refreshing. He can joke all he wants now, but he has a task at hand, and it's clear his intensity is going to help him in his attempt to lead the Magic back to the top of the league.