NBA / May 1, 2014 / 11:30 am

If Pacers Lose Tonight, Head Coach Frank Vogel Should Be Fired

Frank Vogel

Frank Vogel (Pat Lovell/USA TODAY Sports)

The Indiana Pacers are on the brink of elimination. Who ever thought those words would be written on May 1? The Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed is getting beaten up and kicked to the ground by the Atlanta Hawks, the squad that finished 38-44 to end the season and squeaked by the lowly New York Knicks to just barely reach the playoffs. The Hawks lead the series 3-2 and are just one win away from pulling off a monumental upset.

Naturally, losing brings disappointment, frustration and of course, rumors. The latest buzz to circulate around the Indiana team is the head coaching vacancy. Despite Frank Vogel’s success last season and for the large portion of this year, there are those–both fans and writers–who are calling for Vogel’s extermination.

And they absolutely should be.

The 40-year-old head coach has,
overall, done a tremendous job with the Pacers. When Vogel took over midway through the 2010-11 season, he led his team to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Last year, Indiana captured their first Central Division title since 2004 and Vogel had them on the edge of an NBA Finals appearance.

In a perfect world, the Pacers’ historic collapse would be accepted as one mighty struggle, with blame placed collectively on the team; they would move into the offseason with Vogel still at the helm and look forward to next year. Unfortunately, that is not how the NBA works. That is not how life works.

In professional sports’ “win-now” mentality, those in the front office are focusing on “what have you done for me lately?” If that question were to be posed to Vogel, there would not be much to say in response.

Since March 1, the Pacers are a below-average 13-16 and do not resemble the squad from early this season. There was a reported fight that took place between Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner on the eve of the playoffs, but not before Roy Hibbert called out his teammates as “selfish dudes” just a few weeks prior.

What do these incidents tell us about Vogel’s ability to control his team?

The key issue, though, is their play on the court; that is where the games are decided. Credit to the Hawks, an enormous underdog that have absolutely been playing impressive basketball, but the Pacers are the more talented team. Atlanta has been treating the series as their own personal three-point shooting contest while Indiana struggles to guard the perimeter. This has been one of the Pacers’ highlighted issues throughout the series as the team cannot keep up with the active offense. In the second quarter of the Hawks’ Game 5 victory, they drained nine three-pointers, matching an NBA playoff record for treys in a quarter. In the series combined, they are averaging an absurd 11.8 three-pointers per game.

Kudos to Vogel, though, who recently has noticeably allocated extra minutes to Luis Scola and Chris Copeland while sitting Roy Hibbert more often, surely a smart move for the 7-2 center who looks completely overmatched.

Yet, it is not just the statistics we can measure that have the Pacers in this situation, but the intangibles, too. The Hawks are playing with more heart. They simply want it more. Especially in the playoffs–a lack of effort is inexcusable, and after repeated idleness–that onus must fall on the coach. The Pacers’ overall body language is poor while their All-Star center looks like a downright lost soul on the court. Vogel can continue to tweak lineups and preach positivity to the media, but if he is no longer able to get through to his own players, there is not much hope in the Hoosier State.

If Indiana does lose the series, though, there is obvious blame to go around to the players, too. The sole problem is, you cannot fire a whole team but you can fire a head coach. We saw a similar situation last June with the Denver Nuggets. George Karl led the team to the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, but Denver was bounced in the first round by the Golden State Warriors. Karl, despite being named the league’s Coach of the Year just weeks prior, received the boot from the organization.

Despite general manager Kevin Pritchard ensuring Vogel’s job is safe, we all know things can change faster than Hibbert’s downfall. While Vogel certainly has a bright coaching future ahead, his days in Indiana may be coming to an end. Welcome to life in the NBA.

What will Indiana do with Vogel?

Follow Matthew on Twitter at @MatthewHochberg.

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  • north

    And yet again no credit to the team that is finally healthy again and playing like the 3 seed they were on January 20th. Hawks have played the series well, they’ve changed a lot to counter what Indiana has thrown out there and they’ve been playing into the head’s of both Pacer all-stars.

  • Matthew Hochberg

    Unsure if you read the entire piece or not, but I clearly give credit to the Hawks when I state the following: “Credit to the Hawks, an enormous underdog that have absolutely been playing impressive basketball…” Thanks.

  • jaceking

    if theres a better candidate out there, sure, fire him… but they should invest in these coaches just like they invest in the players. takes time to form a formidable leader. vogel has done all the right things up until now, and its not even totally his fault. how can he learn from it if nobody gives him a chance? leadership, authority, strategy; it all comes from experience.

    now i think they should stay on course with him. but like i said.. if theres someone better, go for it.

  • north

    oh I saw that you hid one sentence in there. But if you watched this season at all you’d know that healthy the Hawks weren’t underdogs and that it’s more than just the Pacers imploding and the Hawks playing impressively. But you’d know all this if you watched the Hawks all season. So yeah you covered yourself with a sentence but it’s more than that bro, much more.

  • spencer

    You should read the conversation with Jeff Teague we just published. He talks about how injuries gave them issues all year and they only finally got healthy at the end (sans Horford)

    You can’t really fault Matt for ignoring the Hawks with this piece, though. It centered around the implosion of the Pacers over the last two months, with the onus on Vogel to turn things around.

    Yes, a healthy Hawks team would have competed for home-court in the first round and now they’re healthy, but that’s not really the point of the article. Even a fully healthy Hawks squad with Horford back would struggle against the Pacers team that jumped out to a 40-11 record. I could add that we all overrated the Pacers (they had a cream puff schedule in the opening months), but for this article’s purposes, neglecting the Hawks was a product of circumstance rather than a blatant beef as omission.

    Totally understand where you’re coming from, though. I think Millsap, Teague and Korver are all vastly underrated, specifically by the national media. I hate to admit it, but we’ve slept on them as well.

  • north

    I appreciated Matt’s lone sentence praising the Hawks and the interview with Teague was sick. It just gets old that ATL gets no love every season. 7 post-season trips is pretty astounding especially with all the transition they’ve had. It was just about time that Coach Bud and his Hawks got respect for this series rather than just Indiana imploding. They split the season series so why wouldn’t they play well in a best of 7.
    I love DIME even with your biases, just be ready for people to call them out right. Matt shouldn’t care so much about people’s reactions, just means we read it.

  • Matthew Hochberg

    Your entitled to your opinion, of course. I am appreciate of your comments and you taking the time to read the article & Dime in general. Anyway, Game 7 should be interesting.

  • spencer

    Totally agree. I think Toronto gets the same short end of the stick, and even the Wiz. Most people consider non-IND/MIA Eastern Conference teams as a joke, but true fans know. If our site wasn’t also a small business, I’d love to address every team’s ups and downs in equal measure, but the vagaries of the market demand a large amount of material on the more popular teams/players. It’s annoying, but that’s how capitalism works.

    I think you should be careful with talk of a Dime bias, though. While everyone is going to have their favorite teams, our E-I-C has been doing this a long time and it’s numbed him, and me, to any thought of favoring one team over another. We love basketball just like you, even if we can’t get to every team that deserves DAP — though I try like hell to.

    If anything I have to fight the urge to let my subconscious take over and ignore the LeBron’s and Durant’s of the world to spend 2000 words on how awesome Chuck Hayes’s post defense can be. But, like most everyone, I also gotta pay my landlord.