AP Interview: Vogel brings positivity, winning ways to Magic
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Tipping off an NBA season isn't new to Frank Vogel, yet this year is different.
The always optimistic coach is starting over with the Orlando Magic after being dismissed by the Indiana Pacers. He is intent on getting the Magic back in the playoffs for the first time since Dwight Howard was with the team.
''I want to see our guys succeed,'' Vogel said in an interview with The Associated Press. ''I want to see smiles on their faces when they get over this hump and they achieve what we all know they are capable of achieving. I want to see our fans embrace it and enjoy it. They deserve it.''
The Pacers let Vogel go after five seasons and he became one of the most sought coaches this offseason. He wasn't unemployed long. Two weeks after his firing, Vogel was introduced as coach of the Magic, who had been stunned when Scott Skiles quit in May after one playoff-less season in Orlando.
Vogel is the ideal fit of the defensive-first profile Magic general manager Rob Hennigan was looking for in coach. While in Indiana, the Pacers were one of the top defensive teams in the league.
''He's very genuine,'' Hennigan said. ''I think he believes in coaching but at the same time connecting with players. His general approach is to really treat guys not just with respect, but it's really a collaboration in his eyes. I think our guys really respond to that approach.''
A one-time video coordinator for the Boston Celtics, Vogel rose through ranks as an assistant coach where building a connection with players is must. That approach never left Vogel as he went from fourth assistant to interim coach to head coach of the then-underachieving Pacers.
Vogel proved the anti-Jim O'Brien, who Vogel replaced in Indiana. Vogel attempted to reach his players and connect with them. Paul George, a rookie first-round pick coming off the bench during Vogel's interim season, was one of the players Vogel connected with best.
''Jim O'Brien is one of the hardest coaches to play for,'' George said. ''He was old school, hard-nosed. But Frank was the exact opposite of what he was - real positive, open minded.''
Under Vogel, George became a perennial All-Star.
''We had a great six years together,'' George said. ''He's kind of just been there throughout my whole growing up in this league. From my rookie year to fatherhood to the All-Star Games, he's been there.''
Despite his relationship with George and the playoff berths, Larry Bird felt it was time for a change.
Bird, the Pacers president of basketball operations, didn't renew Vogel's contract though the coach had a winning record in four of his five full seasons.
''I sensed some things over the last few years and took a lot of notes like I do every year,'' Bird said in a telephone interview with AP. ''When his contract was up, I just thought maybe it was time right then.''
Vogel had a 250-181 regular-season record and guided the Pacers to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals still has accepted the move, even if he still doesn't completely understand it.
''Part of the business,'' said Vogel, who also 31-30 in the playoffs after taking over for fired Jim O'Brien with 38 games to go in 2011. ''I still have a lot of friends there, including Larry, who was the one who chose to make the change. I will always be grateful for him.
''I'm disappointed, I wanted to be there forever,'' said Vogel, a 43-year-old New Jersey native. ''I loved living in Indiana. I loved the organization, the Simon family. I loved everything about being the Pacers coach.''
Bird said building relationships with players is one Vogel's strengths.
''The main thing is he is so positive - positive energy,'' Bird said in a telephone interview with AP. ''You felt like he could the players to believe in his system, believe in him. I thought that was a great attribute he had.''
Vogel has brought the same approach to Orlando where he and Hennigan have reconfigured the Magic into the mold of his Pacers teams. The two men added power forward Serge Ibaka and free agent center Bismack Biyombo in the summer to bolster the interior defense.
The first-year Orlando coach seems to be quickly winning over the Magic players.
''He's a good guy,'' said third-year forward Aaron Gordon. ''We can tell he is genuine.''
The next step is to see if Vogel's ability to connect with players translates into enough wins to get Orlando back into the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Vogel predicted during his opening news conference that the team would be in the playoffs this season. After months on the job, he hasn't backed off that promise.
''I believe we are going to have a chance to go deep into the playoffs,'' Vogel said. ''I believe in this team.''