I think DW's comment at the very end of the article is interesting about the Pacers being ready for Rick's style of coaching when maybe they weren't a few years ago. Perhaps a self serving comment by DW, but I know the pacers were ready for Rick's approach after the past three years.


Addressing issues before trouble starts
Carlisle's direct coaching style keeps Pacers on right track

By Mark Montieth
February 13, 2004

LOS ANGELES -- As a 10th-grader in upstate New York, Rick Carlisle once won an award for a speech on interpersonal relationships. The story he told, while seemingly innocent and inconsequential, spoke volumes about what would become his coaching style.

Carlisle had been at a party with friends one evening. They had been drinking and he had not, so he drove them all home. That caused him to miss his 9 p.m. curfew, but he avoided trouble with his parents by immediately explaining the circumstances.

He was forgiven, the matter was dropped and life went on.

Fast forward to his coaching career with the Indiana Pacers, one that was thrust upon him less than a month before the start of training camp, and it's obvious he's taking a similar approach to conflicts both real and potential.

Carlisle's quick and decisive style is a major reason the Pacers have a 39-14 record at the NBA All-Star break, earning him the chance to coach the Eastern Conference team in the league's showcase game here on Sunday.

Carlisle hasn't had many major issues with the Pacers, either on or off the court. Perhaps his bud-nipping style is one of the reasons. Whether it's calling a quick timeout to stop an opposing team's run or calling a player on his cell phone to head off a misunderstanding, not much gets by him.

"It's part of my personality, I guess," Carlisle said. "I deal with things directly and quickly in most cases. I've seen where a lack of decisiveness or a period of doubt can really hurt a team.

"When you talk about decisiveness, you're getting back to what this business is about, which is communication. The quicker you can address issues, the quicker you can give positive or negative feedback, the better your situation is going to be moving forward."

The irony is that Carlisle was fired in Detroit last May 31, after coaching the Pistons to two 50-win seasons, for a supposed lack of communication with his players and management. Although only one Pistons player, Chucky Atkins, offered a public complaint along those lines, the anonymous whispers were that Carlisle wasn't getting along with players, management and/or ownership.

"It became kind of a smear campaign," said Kevin O'Neill, a Carlisle assistant with the Pistons and now the head coach in Toronto. "But it smeared Rick right into a $4 million-a-year job and it smeared me into a $2 million-a-year job. So we don't feel too smeared."

Nor does Carlisle feel vindicated at this break in the season. He didn't believe the reported problems were credible, for one thing. For another, he didn't get into coaching to gain personal honor.

"My concern is working as hard as possible to help the players improve and put them in a position to succeed," he said, offering a de facto mission statement.

Carlisle's intense, no-nonsense approach has rubbed some people the wrong way over the years. His first year as Larry Bird's assistant coach with the Pacers, in the 1997-98 season, included some conflicts with people outside the locker room, and then-team president Donnie Walsh told him he needed to improve his personal manner.

"And he did," Walsh said. "He really did, I thought."

Carlisle has elicited no such complaints this season. His calm, consistent, modest approach, symbolized by the white shirt and slip-on loafers he wears at every game, has worked well for a maturing team that's still occasionally volatile.

Nothing festers, on the court or off. Just as when he was a 10th-grader, he believes quick dialogue can erase a potential conflict.

"Rick handles everything extremely well," Austin Croshere said. "It's never about him. It's always about what's in the best interests of the team and getting us to win as many games as possible. It's never anything other than that. And he never wavers from that.

"You realize, 'Hey, this guy's doing what needs to be done for us to win; I need to do that.' He's just done a great job of dealing with individual circumstances. Because of that, it's prevented other things from arising."

Regular dialogue

Carlisle does more than put out fires. He's said to be a willing communicator on a daily basis, with starters and reserves alike. His former and current players who have been contacted speak glowingly of his willingness to interact with them.

"He was always somebody, after a good game or bad game, I could go to his room and watch film," said Jalen Rose, a Pacer during Carlisle's three seasons as Bird's assistant. "He'd call me and say, 'Are you watching such-and-such game tonight?' We had the same thirst and respect for the game. I never felt we had a problem communicating."

To outsiders, Carlisle can appear introverted and, as Walsh says, "always lost in his head somewhere." But Michael Curry, who started during Carlisle's two seasons in Detroit and now plays in Toronto for O'Neill, says that doesn't carry over to the players.

"Rick communicates with the players a lot," said Curry, president of the NBA Players Association. "He has a lot of individual meetings, a lot of small two- or three-player meetings. There were times we would go on the road and as soon as we got into the next town he would bring the captains into his room just to see if everybody knew how important the next game was. Something as simple as that. He was always communicating with the guys."

Carlisle's bizarre experience in Detroit is ancient history now, and the reasons for his dismissal won't seem relevant this weekend in Los Angeles. His team is 61/2games ahead of the Pistons in the Central Division standings and, compared to the rest of the NBA, an oasis of stability after a rocky summer.

Isiah Thomas, the Pacers coach who directed the Eastern Conference in last year's All-Star game, stands as an example of how quickly things can change in the NBA. But Carlisle's style, for now, appears to be working.

"The team is ready for it," Walsh said. "It needed structure. The structure that Rick brings, it was exactly the right time for our team to have that, where it might not have been two or three years ago."