Sorry. I always wanted to say that.
Anyhow, as your friendly, new-neighborhood columnist, I want to welcome you, Mr. Brown, to the city of brotherly sports, where we never boo Santa Claus and where our players actually — get this — show up for practice. Your days in The Allen Iverson Sideshow are over. That’s the good news.
Here’s the rest.
You are stepping into a bee’s nest, Larry. You know a bee’s nest. Lots of honey to be had — as long as you don’t get stung. These are strange days in Piston Land. I don’t need to tell you, Larry, that your arrival was, shall we say, a tad unexpected?
I mean, there we were last Friday evening, thinking Rick Carlisle was coaching this team. And here we were Monday morning, driving out to your first news conference as the new skipper. Whew. And I thought we were supposed to sleep on weekends.
Now, you may be used to this, Larry. You’re 62, and you’ve changed NBA teams six times. But around here, we labor under this naive notion that when the team is improving, when it’s winning playoff rounds, it actually hangs on to its coach.
“Hey, I’ve never inherited a team with a winning record,” you admitted Monday. See? You were as surprised as we were. In fact, you confessed you were “going to another team” before you got the call that Detroit was interested. Of course, you also said it took “about 20 minutes” to decide to come here. Good. That’s 19 more than it took Joe Dumars to decide to hire you.
So now that you’ve got the whistle, Larry, here are a few friendly tips for making your stay here a long and happy one, which in the NBA means four months.
Rules to coach by
1. Know thy boss and keep him happy.
We probably don’t need to tell you this, but the only guy you really have to please is Bill Davidson. He’s the owner. If he approves, you can stay here, even if others wish you wouldn’t. But if he sours on you, all the king’s horses won’t keep you on the throne. Look at what happened to Carlisle, a guy who won 100 games in two seasons and won coach of the year in 2001-02. His people skills were less than what Mr. D. wanted. Now he’s selling his house in Birmingham. Maybe you want to buy it.
2. Know thy team president, and show him respect.
I had to laugh when I heard reporters around the country wondering if Dumars would have trouble coexisting with you. In Philadelphia, your last job, you had power in personnel decisions — the power that Dumars has here. I laughed because the onus is not on Joe. It’s on you.
Dumars has resurrected this franchise with personnel moves that at times have been lucky and at times have been so good, you’d swear they must have been lucky. There is no power struggle here. This is Joe’s team. He will respect you because he respects his elders, he respects coaches with experience and, well, because he’s like that. But if you learned anything from Rule No. 1, it is not to challenge the owner’s favorite sons. Joe is at the top of that list.
Not to mention, he’s the guy who hired you. 3. This team has no “Answer,” but many questions. You are coming off six years with Allen (The Answer) Iverson. I am tempted to offer you two aspirin and a pillow. But while Iverson gave you many headaches, one of them was never, “Who’s going to shoot, who’s going to lead, or who’s the man?” The team you are inheriting asks all of the above. This team is unlike most others — it lacks a superstar. To get the most out of it, you will need to keep things that way, while still developing leadership and — oh, yes — talking to the guys every now and then. Apparently, the previous coach didn’t think that was too important.
He’s brought here to win
A few things about your news conference, Larry. I made some notes. You said:
“I didn’t get into this profession to think about winning a championship.”
Maybe not. But that’s how you’re going to leave it. You have coached Kansas, UCLA, the Nuggets, Nets, Pacers, Spurs, Clippers and 76ers. You were known as a teacher. That’s great. But these Pistons don’t need an education. They need to hang a banner from the ceiling. They are coming off a conference finals appearance. Anything less will be a disappointment. Please. Larry. Don’t disappoint.
“I don’t know how I wound up here, to be honest.”
We can clear that up. You ended up here because Mr. D. gave Carlisle the boot and the team didn’t want to make a lateral move. You got here because you were the finest coach available, and the one most likely to get this team to a title. Which is why, as I say above, teach all you want, but teach to win.
“I’ll be 63 come September. I don’t want to put my family through all this again, so I’m here for the long haul.”
With all due respect, Larry, we hope so. But this is a funny business. You have no doubt said similar things in the places you’ve been before. And no doubt your bosses have said them to you. The fact is, nothing is forever in the NBA. Coaches come and go in stages: to salvage, to resuscitate, to build, to become a winner. Your stage in Detroit is the best one possible, the crest of the wave, and if you take the team over the top, that will be all that matters. How long you stay is — as Carlisle proved — unpredictable at best.
So with that, we say welcome. Get to know Dumars. Get friendly with Davidson. Learn something about hockey. And expect your players to gravitate toward practice and away from the police. That should be a welcome change.
On the other hand, our cheesesteaks leave something to be desired.
But as Carlisle will tell you, you can’t have everything.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).