clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What Frank Vogel choosing Orlando really means

New, comments

For a franchise that was reeling, the Frank Vogel hire proved that there is still hope left in Orlando

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When Frank Vogel announced on May 19th that he would take over as the 13th head coach in Orlando Magic history, it changed the team's perception around the league.

No longer would they settle for scraps. No longer would they have to stomach rejection. Vogel chose the Magic over much "sexier" jobs, and it says something about the kind of person he has always been.

But for that day to take place, another much darker one had to happen first.

One could make a compelling case that May 12th, 2016 was the worst day in Orlando Magic history. It may not seem that way now, but it sure felt like it at the time. That was the day that Scott Skiles deemed the Magic un-coachable, and willingly left millions of dollars on the table just to get away. It torpedoed the franchise's plans, and left them with no direction.

This incident reminded Magic fans just how far their team had fallen, and the future looked more grim than ever.

The spiral started in 2012. Dwight Howard leaving for the bright lights of Los Angeles was the first in a long line of rejections that would echo throughout the halls of a new arena that he helped build. It was the end of a fairytale, in a sense. The years of Orlando holding more water in the basketball world than metropolises like Chicago, New York, and Houston were over. The big markets always win in the end.

Still, Magic fans held on to the hope that there was something special about this place. The franchise had always found a way to overcome the odds, and this time would be no different.

Four years later, that hope was all but dead. It had been run into the ground by a series of failed gambles by new GM Rob Hennigan. Fans waited patiently as Orlando plummeted down the standings in search of ping pong balls that would land them a future star. They found none.

Despite this, the city remained hopeful when Hennigan declared that 2015 would be playoffs or bust. The team began pursuing big-name free agents. Again, they found none. They then hired a hard-nosed coach with playoff experience that promised to finally win when it counted. He quit on them after one season. This was rock bottom.

Rejection seemed to be around every corner for the last four seasons. Maybe this was a new reality. Maybe Orlando had just been lucky all those years and this was the new normal.

In their moment of greatest despair, a savior appeared in the form of Frank Vogel. Now, Vogel has yet to coach a single minute of basketball for his new team, and only time will tell how successful he can be. This one was a win before a single dribble, however. The significant part of the hire was that he chose the Magic.

Maybe there was something special about Orlando.

Magic CEO Alex Martins sure thought so, telling OrlandoMagic.com that it was telling of the Magic's reputation that Vogel chose Orlando over other teams such as Memphis and Houston.

"This roster is very, very attractive to me," said a beaming Vogel in his introductory press conference. He went on to say that "a big part of what attracted me to this job is the feeling that this group is ready." He compared the Magic to his Eastern Conference Finals Pacers teams, and said they were ready to be "a monster in the East."

The first taste of the Magic's new head coach would expose several key differences between him and his predecessor. He was optimistic, rather than gloomy. He was nurturing, not chiding. He dealt in swagger, not fear. He could be equally intense, but with a winning resume that spoke for itself.

That infectious personality and love for basketball started at a young age. In 2012, the TNT crew dug up this glimpse of a young Frank Vogel.

His is a classic rags-to-riches story in the NBA, one that would almost read like a cliché if it wasn't true.

He was an athletically challenged, but hard working point guard from New Jersey that used his talents to secure a scholarship from Division III Juniata College. "Hard working" would be the modifier his peers would use to describe Frank for the rest of his career. A student athlete in the literal sense, he worked toward a degree as an orthopedic surgeon with basketball as a ticket to get there.

That all changed when Vogel watched a 1992 NCAA tournament game that would forever be known as "The Shot". Upon seeing Kentucky lose in dramatic fashion, he felt compelled to join the team at whatever level they would have him. This led to a long and successful relationship with Rick Pitino, Kentucky's coach at the time.

Vogel transferred to Kentucky and started as a student manager. He would then become a grad assistant and a video coordinator. Yes, a video coordinator – because this story didn't have enough basketball archetypes in it already.

When Pitino left for Boston, he took along his head video man. Vogel spent long nights working tirelessly to smooth out the kinks in that ill-fated team. It would all be worth it when he got his first crack as a real assistant in 2001.

Jim O'Brien, an assistant under Pitino at Kentucky, would be tabbed to replace Rick in Boston. He would give Vogel his first NBA coaching gig at the age of 28. It was under O'Brien that Frank Vogel grew into the NBA mind we know today.

Vogel followed O'Brien to Philadelphia and Indiana, learning a little more at each stop. It was from his mentor that he took the reigns of the Pacers franchise in 2011, and he wasted no time ascending to one of the elite coaches in the Eastern Conference.

Vogel's Pacers teams would make the Eastern Conference Finals twice in six years, losing both by virtue of not having LeBron James. He would compile a record of 250-181 while in Indiana, and coach the All-Star team on his way to the best record in the East in 2013. His gritty, defensive teams were everything that Skiles promised to deliver to Orlando, and much more.

The Vogel/Magic marriage was one of principal, not of status. It shocked many NBA pundits, but for Vogel it made perfect sense. Bright lights never swayed him; he would have been happy to stay in Indiana had Larry Bird renewed his deal.

For the small market coach that only cared about winning, it was Orlando, the small market team with a history of success that appealed to him. The Vogel hire shows that winners will still choose Orlando, now it's up to the players and management to bring that monster in the East to life.