The word “player-coach” stems back to even before the 1960s, when Bill Russell was both player and coach for the Boston Celtics. Although Russell is the most known player-coach in the NBA, the position was a staple for many professional teams.
The practice is no longer allowed in the NBA. If it were, one would have to wonder if Orlando Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn could fill the role. At just 37 years old (he turns 38 on Feb. 11), he certainly has the potential. Vaughn has been known to be very hands-on during practices, often leaving practices just as sweaty as his players.
But there’s more to being a player-coach than just being able to participate in the drills. Almost four years removed from being an NBA player himself, Vaughn has the ability to relate to his guys on a deeper level.
Now halfway through his first year as head coach, Vaughn has had the opportunity to experience the relationship between player and coach on both sides of the spectrum. It’s something that he values in both regards and something he is constantly learning from.
In this week’s Q-and-A, we sit down with Vaughn to discuss the relationship between players and coaches.
FS Florida: Anyone who knows you knows you’re extremely personable. You’re especially good with names. I’ve seen you meet a person one time and the next day remember their name. What’s your trick?
Jacque Vaughn: You know, I don’t know if I’d call this a trick, but I listen. I really listen. When people are talking to me, I pay attention. When you’re genuine about hearing what someone has to say, I find it easier to remember their name. Saying someone’s name is a simple way to let people know that you care.
FS Florida: Caring about people, that’s your goal not only as a coach, but also as person. Where does that stem from?
Vaughn: You know, my coach, Roy Williams (at the University of Kansas) was unbelievable in how he related to everyone. Not just his players and coaching staff, not just the kids he was recruiting, I’m talking about everyone he came in contact with. You talk about remembering names, that’s where I get it from. When I was in college I just used to watch how he would relate to people and how he made them feel. He cares. That’s something I greatly admire about him and something I’ve picked up from being around him.
FS Florida: A lot of coaches focus on developing talent in the NBA, especially with the young guys. The idea of maximizing potential. How important is it to develop players as people, also, for life after basketball?
Vaughn: That’s very important. Just as important as helping them become the best players they can be. We as coaches have a responsibility to help them become the best men they can be as well. That’s not something I take lightly. I know how my coaches have helped shape the type a person I am today. I know how much of an impact we can make on our players’ lives. I love that about my job. Every day I have the opportunity to make a difference.
FS Florida: When you retired from playing in the NBA, you took a year away from basketball just to kind of clear your mind and really focus on what you wanted to do with the rest of your life. As a player, is it scary at all when you’re approaching retirement?
Vaughn: You know for me it wasn’t all that scary. For me, life wasn’t just basketball. I’ve always had a sense of reality about the game. I love basketball. I love to play. But I could sense when I started slowing down and everyone around me starting getting faster. Not that I couldn’t have pushed myself to play a few more years, but I enjoyed my years of playing. I enjoyed my career. And when it was time for me to walk away, I felt good about what I had done and how I had left the game. I was in a good place.
FS Florida: You say life wasn’t just basketball. Do you think that’s something other players struggle with a little, the balance between life and basketball?
Vaughn: It’s tricky. It’s easy to get caught up in the game. You are on the road for weeks at a time. You’re constantly preparing for the next game. Even if you’re not in practice, you’re thinking about matchups and reads and how you can do better next time. It’s easy to get caught up. But when you retire, all that is done. Now you have to be husband and father and friend. If that’s not something you were making time for all the while, it’s difficult to just pick it up.
FS Florida: What do you tell the older guys in the league, in basketball years they may be old, in reality they’re 35, 36 years old, 40 at the most? These guys have a lot of life left after basketball. What has been your advice to them as they have prepared to hang up their sneaks?
Vaughn: The first thing I tell them is to enjoy right now. Enjoy being in practice. Enjoy clowning around with your teammates. Enjoy putting on that uniform and going out to compete every day. Because one day that’s going to be gone, and you’re going to miss it. No matter how at peace you are when you retire, you’re going to miss playing. So enjoy the blessing that is in front of you right now. The next thing I would tell them is find out what else in life you’re passionate about and build from there. Like you said, these guys have a lot to do with their lives outside of being a basketball player.
FS Florida: Well-roundedness. The ability to know a little about a lot of things. How does that help you as a coach?
Vaughn: It’s one of the keys to being great at anything. Being well-rounded is a gateway to being successful not just for me as a coach but for everyone. As a coach I have a range of people that I have to lead every day. If I can’t connect with them on a personal level, then how will I be able to get the best out of them? So I need to be able to know something when they tell me about the latest hip-hop song that’s out right now. Or on the other side, I need to be able to tell them about what’s going on abroad. The more you know, the more you are able to know.
FS Florida: What’s your favorite book?
Vaughn: You know I’m a huge Maya Angelou fan. I love her work. My favorite book changes depending on the situation. Right now a book I’m carrying with me is called “Aspire.” It’s by Kevin Hall. I actually got the chance to meet him, great guy. The book talks about the power of your words. And how the words you speak have the power to create your atmosphere. Very good stuff. It’s helping me every day in the position I’m in right now as a coach. It’s a book that I have re-read and skimmed back over and turned backed to. It’s been really good for me in this season of my life.
FS Florida: So far has it been better to play or to coach?
Vaughn: Ahhh man. Nothing will ever take the place of playing. Nothing. There’s absolutely nothing like it. And I love coaching, but it’s not like playing. See when you’re playing, you’re being challenged mentally and physically. The coach can prepare you up until a certain time, but ultimately the player has to get out there and play. And there is nothing like that feeling you get on game day. Time to compete. Ahhh man. I loved it. I absolutely loved it.