By Ashley Dunkak
AUBURN HILLS (CBS DETROIT) – The Detroit Pistons have handed over the keys to the franchise, giving new head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy the kind of control only currently enjoyed by two other coaches in the 30-team NBA – Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers.
Both Popovich and Rivers have won at least one NBA title. Both are currently busy coaching in the playoffs.
As a head coach, Van Gundy has an impressive resume, including a .641 winning percentage in regular season games and a 48-39 record in playoff games. Success as a coach does not guarantee success as an executive, however, and particularly not when a single person is charged with filling those roles simultaneously.
Pistons owner Tom Gores conceded the combination of duties could be problematic for some, but he has faith in Van Gundy.
“I am convinced,” Gores said. “I’m so confident that this is going to work. We both have the passion for it. I know he’s going to be as prepared as ever when it comes to any decisions we’re making, whether it’s on the floor or front office decisions.”
Gores referred to the hiring as a defining moment for the Pistons, the most important decision the organization has made during his tenure, the moment that the ownership group hits the reset button on the culture of the franchise. Certainly, by that description, the choice to put so much faith in Van Gundy is a big one, but Gores feels good about it.
“I’m sleeping better,” Gores said. “I do lose sleep at night worrying about this community and making sure it delivers for you guys, and I can tell you I’m sleeping better having Stan. So I’m very, very comfortable. I’ve made a living and built my businesses understanding structure, and this is a structure that I am convinced will work.”
Gores characterized the addition of Van Gundy as a coup, a situation in which the Pistons swooped in and swept the coach away from other suitors. According to several reports, Detroit’s offer of a dual role – a condition that the Golden State Warriors are said to have been unwilling to match – swayed Van Gundy significantly.
Van Gundy did not discuss Golden State, but he did speak highly of the opportunity to be head coach and president of basketball operations.
“You want the conditions that allow you to be successful,” Van Gundy said. “It has nothing to do with power.
“One of the big problems, at least in our league right now, in a lot of places, is there is not a great connection necessarily between front office and coaching, and you see it,” Van Gundy continued. “I don’t have to tell you where the situations are, but you see it. This setup, nothing to do with power. It allows us to really create a tremendous synergy and a very unified organization where we’re all on the same page, and that’s all it’s about.”
Certainly, the teams currently using this setup – the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers – have been successful. They are also piloted by some of the best coaches in professional basketball. Gores evidently believes Van Gundy has similar capabilities.
“I personally love the idea that the floor is connected to the front office,” Gores said. “It’s a model that will work with the right people. I don’t think anyone can handle it, and Stan is unique in handling it. He understands leadership, organizational structures. We had a few-hour discussion on that because it was a very big job, but I am convinced he will pull it off.”
Some of Van Gundy’s faith in this type of system stems from watching it work earlier in his career as Pat Riley worked as head coach and president of basketball operations for the Miami Heat. Throughout his career, Van Gundy has been able to win steadily as a coach. He and Gores seem to believe that giving him jurisdiction over front office decisions also will enhance the team’s chances of success even more.
“What you need to do to win is you need one voice and everybody all on the same page,” Van Gundy said. “It’s hard to get when you have a lot of people in charge. People start pulling in the other direction, might be together for a while, and then you hit adversity, and everybody starts pulling in different directions. This makes it a lot easier.”
It also puts all the pressure on one person. Van Gundy will bear total responsibility if the Pistons falter again this upcoming season. He seemed totally comfortable with the higher level of accountability.
“There’s no excuses now,” Van Gundy said. “What happens a lot of times in this thing is – and I know because I talk to coaches all the time – coaches say, ‘I’m doing a great job, but this guy is not getting me good enough players,’ and the front office is telling ownership, ‘We put together a great roster, and the coach is screwing it up.’ There’s none of that anymore. It’s on us to get it done.”