MILWAUKEE — While Larry Drew was in the middle of describing his first extended look at the city of Milwaukee, a cell phone rang.
“That’s a fine,” Drew said without hesitation.
As it turns out, it was his wife Sharon’s iPhone. It’s tough to be the wife of a coach.
While the exchange was light-hearted and everybody laughed about it afterward, it was a well-timed example of exactly what the Bucks need Drew to bring to the organization. Not only do the Bucks need a leader to direct the ship and give the franchise some sort of direction, but they also need Drew to instill respect and discipline as head coach.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about Drew before he became a serious candidate other than the fact that he had won consistently with his Atlanta teams. Digging in a little bit further, Drew’s resume is much more impressive than most think.
Lauded around the league for his ability to make adjustments and call plays in games, Drew got the job done with the a Hawks team that didn’t have a superstar, but had three players in Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford who all are more second options on great teams.
The Hawks upset a more talented, Dwight Howard-led Orlando team in the first round of the 2010-11 playoffs and took top-seeded Chicago to six games in the second round. When an injury limited Horford to 11 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Atlanta’s season was supposed to be doomed. Instead, the Hawks went 40-26 and made the playoffs again.
His best coaching job might have come this past season. The Hawks not only had nine guys playing in the final year of their contracts, but they also had to find a way to replace their leading scorer after Johnson was traded to Brooklyn. Oh, and Drew was a so-called “lame-duck” coach in the final year of his contract.
Remember how much uncertain futures hurt and eventually led to the demise of last year’s Bucks team? Atlanta had a much cloudier future and still won 44 games, taking Indiana to six games in the first round. Drew held the team together though he knew new general manager Danny Ferry was going to bring in his guy after the season.
Look, I hear the crowd who prefer hiring an assistant coach instead of a retread head coach. I’m normally in that crowd. Usually I’d rather see a team take a chance on a first-time coach than one who had failed in a previous job.
But here’s the thing: Drew didn’t fail in Atlanta. He got the most as he could out of the talent he had with the Hawks. That roster wasn’t ever going to compete for a conference title, and probably was fortunate to make the second round in his first year.
Will Drew’s style work in Milwaukee? Nobody knows the answer to that question. But the Bucks weren’t going to hire a sure thing. Jerry Sloan wasn’t interested in coming to Milwaukee. Neither were the Van Gundy brothers.
In this day in age in professional sports, it’s incredibly hard for a coach to demand respect, instill discipline and at the same time get the most out of players as a so-called player’s coach. Can Drew do it in Milwaukee? We’ll see.
There’s no doubt Drew is a player’s coach. He spoke Monday of becoming “buddies” with his players, building an off-the-court relationship by going out to lunch and dinner, letting the player know he truly cares about them as a person.
While that’s certainly important in this day and age, the term “buddies” will certainly raise some eyebrows. I don’t think Drew meant he plans on hanging out with his players, he wants to have a good rapport with his guys. He’s confident he can get the Bucks to buy into his system and play as a unit. That didn’t happen last season in Milwaukee.
Scott Skiles was a man who demanded respect, but he wasn’t one for building relationships off the court. The players knew Jim Boylan was a stop-gap, so he couldn’t do much to have control of the locker room.
Many coaches claim to be able to have good relationships with their players while still maintaining a level of discipline, but Drew has done it. The old-school style of Skiles had run its course in Milwaukee. It was time for a change, but not a coach who the players will just walk over. It was evident Monday that nobody walks over Larry Drew. He plans to meet with players to tell them their roles on the team. Drew said he lets the players tell him their own views of themselves during this meeting, but it often doesn’t change his mind.
If it’s possible to win a press conference, Drew did so Monday. He was poised, eloquent, while showing a tremendous amount of confidence not only in his abilities, but also in the fact he will get the Bucks to become one unit playing together on the court.
Drew seems to be a great fit for the Bucks because what this franchise needs in its new head coach is exactly what he stands for and has done in the past.
Now the offseason challenge continues with shaping the roster so he can win.