Interim Boston head coach John Carroll, co-author with his wife of The Confident Coach’s Guide to Teaching Basketball: A Surefire Plan for Successful Practices, was released by the Celtics this week. What would be the ideal situation for his skills?

Confident Coach Carroll Surefired

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services  

Interim Boston head coach John Carroll is the co-author, along with his wife Beverly, of The Confident Coach’s Guide to Teaching Basketball: A Surefire Plan for Successful Practices. The Guide is an excellent book for teaching basketball to all age groups, with a clear focus on the younger generations. He took over as head coach of the Celtics when Jim O’Brien unexpectedly resigned earlier this year and he’s done a great job in a difficult situation. Not as well as New Jersey’s new interim head coach Lawrence Frank has done, but still a respectable job.

O’Brien’s last game was also Byron Scott’s last game. The Celtics played the Nets in New Jersey on January 25, and were roundly blown out 110-91. Scott was ejected with one technical foul with just under two minutes left in the third quarter, and his number one assistant Frank took over, and he’s been coaching ever since. Immediately after that game, Scott was dismissed by the Nets and O’Brien resigned to the Celtics.

What a difference an exit makes.

Frank went on to set a record for a new head coach in any professional sport in North America by winning his first 14 games. Carroll lost 12 out of his first 14 games.

Carroll’s situation was unfortunate. He inherited a team that was supposed to be more athletic and offensive-oriented when a defensive-oriented coach quit, taking the architect of Boston’s defensive scheme, assistant coach Dick Harter, with him. Carroll was left trying to apply what he learned about psychology in college to professional athletes looking to win a game. His methods involved taking the team bowling and even giving quality playing time, and eventually some starting time, to second-round draft pick Brandon Hunter in an effort to motivate the whole team.

It was under Carroll that Hunter blossomed, quickly putting in the first, and only, double-double performance of his brief career. He eventually fizzled out at the end as Carroll, like O’Brien before him, looked to three-point shooter Walter McCarty for long stretches of time.

Carroll reportedly received a $100,000 bonus for bringing the Celtics into the playoffs, and overall, his job was one that was well done. He went into a situation that was tumultuous to say the least and was able to bring an auro of calm into it, no matter how long the losing streak got.

Carroll rarely lost his temper, and we didn’t hear of a lot of infighting. He didn’t take Philadelphia interim head coach Chris Ford’s heavyhanded approach and bench players for minor infractions. He tried to let his players play, while at the same time trying to please his boss, Celtics GM Danny Ainge, by giving the rookies some development time. He succeeded.

Yes, despite Boston’s quick first round exit, despite the many losses, John Carroll succeeded.

He was a stop-gap measure from the get-go, and while he didn’t implement a full-fledged up-tempo offense or allow the rookies to develop with more playing time, he accomplished the only achievable goal he could: he got the Celtics into the playoffs, and he didn’t alienate any players from the franchise.

Carroll the Confident Coach was released by the Celtics this week. He could become an assistant somewhere else, a head coach somewhere else, or take a year off. But let’s forget about the details of when and what, and ask, what would be the ideal head coaching situation for his skills? Perhaps it will be in a year, perhaps in two after being an assistant elsewhere. But in what kind of situation would Carroll thrive?

Carroll’s most famous saying is that practice doesn’t make perfect: perfect practice makes perfect.

I’ve heard that saying before attributed to others, but it’s nice to be have a coach to pin it on as well.

The point transcends sports, of course. If you practice something incorrectly, then you will do it incorrectly, whether it’s playing the piano, or dating girls, or reading books. You need to do the right thing always, when you are practicing and when you are performing, to instill the right habits in you.

His Celtics odyssey was not perfect, but it was good. Where would he be perfect?

Carroll would be a great coach when the biggest problem is personality clashes. He knows his X’s and O’s but that’s not where he distinguishes himself from the rest of the pack. He does not appear to have his own highly developed offensive or defensive system or philosophy. He simply understands the game.

Bear in mind this is far from being criticism. Jeff Van Gundy also does not seem to have a unique offensive or defensive system or philosophy per se, but rather he adjusts his schemes for the talent at hand. With Yao Ming or Patrick Ewing on his team, it would be silly not to look to exploit those talents as often as possible, so he has been labeled an inside-out coach only because that’s what he’s done. But all he looks for, as he would say himself, is good defense, rebounding, and taking care of the ball.

Unlike Van Gundy and Jerry Sloan, another system-less coach, Carroll does not appear to be particularly heavy-handed. He wouldn’t stress out Greg Ostertag the way Sloan does. He wouldn’t get into big rifts with Steve Francis the way Van Gundy does.

For Carroll, the ideal situation would be one where the biggest problem is a lack of cohesion or chemistry, and where the offensive and defensive schemes are pretty obvious. In other words, he’d be perfect in a situation like Lawrence Frank’s.

If he were promoted to head coach because of the sacking of a coach rather than his resignation, that would mean he could continue the same offensive and defensive schemes, as well as pretty much the same substitution patterns. But when a head coach resigns over difference in vision, it is much harder to maintain the old system, especially when your GM doesn’t believe in it. You have to start fiddling with it on the fly.

The obstacle that Carroll faces in getting a head coaching job is that he’s not a major name. Recent trends have gone towards hiring coaches with bang-em-up name recognition like Lenny Wilkens or Doc Rivers or Larry Brown or Jeff Van Gundy. Coaches that you could build a franchise around. Carroll is not yet at that level.

Carroll is certainly more than qualified to be a head coach at any other level – WNBA, NBDL, or any of the other minor leagues, but that would be a step backwards for him.

The right thing for him to do today, from a long-term point of view, would be to become a number one assistant with a successful club. Then one of two things would happen. Either his stock would continue to go up as he is associated with more and more success, or he may find himself with a chance at becoming head coach again by default if the club falters. The problem is it’s hard to get offered the job of number one assistant from outside the organization. It’s usually something you build up to.

There is one alternative. If he becomes a color commentator and is successful at that – if he becomes recognized for making poignant comments about the game and mapping out the right strategies teams should face – then his stock will also climb.

Doc Rivers did it. So did Danny Ainge. It may now be time for John Carroll to get behind the booth and let the world see the way the Confident Coach approaches basketball.

In any case, we all wish him the best of luck. Coaching firings come in waves; it was the Eastern Conference’s turn this year, but it may be the Western Conference’s turn in a year or two.

John Carroll will be available.