When Knicks fans think of the defining head coach for the franchise, Jeff Van Gundy is the name that comes to mind. JVG led the Knicks to the most success they've had in 40 years, and for those too young to be around for any Knicks' championships, Van Gundy is the coach they think of. With the Knicks, however, failure comes much more often than success. Shouldn't the defining coach be one who's associated with incompetence and blunders, not winning? For me, that's what I think of, and the Knicks' head coach that pops in my head is none other than Derek Fisher.
Under Mike Woodson in 2013, the Knicks had their best season since 1997, winning 54 games and a playoff series. After winning 37 games the following year (something Knicks fans would now welcome with open arms), Woodson was fired to make way for Derek Fisher. The move coincided with Phil Jackson taking the reigns of the front office, and he gave his former player a 5-year, $25 million deal before Fisher ever coached an NBA game. The Knicks won 17 games in Fisher's first season at the helm.
It wasn't all about the wins. Despite still having Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks were tanking. Yet if you watched the games and saw what the on-court product looked like, you knew Fisher was in way over his head. Late game offense and execution were laughable, with the Knicks constantly looking clueless in crunch time. Out-of-timeout and out-of-bounds plays consistently showed zero creativity. Jackson wanted Fisher to run the triangle as well, and it didn't take long to realize that running an offense from the 1990s in the 2010s was outdated. Fisher did it anyways. It was the offense he played in. Fisher was fired in the middle of the following season, compiling a 40-96 overall record as Knicks' head coach.
Fisher's short tenure was a perfect microcosm of every mistake the Knicks have made once, twice, or thrice. Fisher was hired because he was a big name, despite having no coaching experience. He was hired by another who got the job because of his name, and Jackson meddled in the team's offense when he should have focused on being part of the front office. It wasn't all his fault, but Fisher was clearly bad. There was even an off-the-court feud with Matt Barnes that led to some serious drama. Doesn't that all sound so Knicks?
Fisher started a long line of unsuccessful Knicks head coaches, one the team hopes ends with new head coach Tom Thibodeau. There's plenty of pressure on Thibodeau to not only restore winning to New York, but also become the defining coach that this generation of Knicks fans will remember fondly. If Thibs can bring the Knicks a title, he will be more revered and beloved than even his mentor Van Gundy. Until then, Fisher will be the head coach I think of, and one I long to forget.