The Case for a Rookie Head Coach


On a slow Monday afternoon last week, news broke that David Griffin would be kept as the Cavaliers’ full-time General Manager and that head coach Mike Brown was being fired. The news interrupted talk about the Browns’ draft class and the struggles of the Indians as Brown was let go after just one year in his second coaching stint with the Cavs. It was a semi-shocking move, but also one that make sense, given that Griffin’s fast-paced offensive philosophy clashed with Brown’s heavy defensive philosophy. Now the only question is, who will Griffin hire as the new head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Over the past week, many names from many backgrounds have been floated around as possibilities to be the head guy for the Cavs. You have the veteran head coaches such as Mike D’Antoni, George Karl, Alvin Genrty, and Lionel Hollins. Then you have assistants or college coaches that have never been a head coach in the NBA. This list includes guys like Mark Price (Bobcats/Hornets), Adrian Griffin (Bulls), Jay Larranaga (Celtics), Kevin Ollie (Connecticut), and Fred Hoiberg (Iowa State). Whichever direction Griffin decides to go in, he has plenty of options.

Now comes a separate topic. Of course, Griffin will be looking for a guy that fits his style better than Mike Brown would have – though Griffin did state he would like to meet in the middle of offensive and defensive philosophies. Nonetheless, there will be fans pining for another veteran head coach like the Cavs have had since Byron Scott was hired in 2010. There will be fans that don’t want to start over and go through the possible learning curve that a rookie head coach could go through. There will also be a group of fans that have no qualms with going out and hiring a rookie head coach, given he fits the team well. As for myself, I believe that first and foremost, whomever Griffin brings in has to mesh well with what this team is good at doing. Although Coach Brown did a good job of increasing this team’s defensive numbers, it was painfully obvious at times that the Cavs, including All Star Kyrie Irving, struggled thriving in Brown’s offensive system, or lack thereof.

All that said, I’m not against hiring a first-year head coach. In fact, as I look at some of the candidates, I may actually be in favor of it. If you look around the league, especially the lowly Eastern Conference this year, you see how many teams hired rookie head coaches and the success that they have had. Of the eight playoff teams in the East this year, six of them were led by coaches who had no previous NBA head coaching experience (Vogel, Spoelstra, Thibodeau, Kidd, Clifford, and Budenholzer). Of the seven teams in the East that didn’t make the playoffs, five were lead by guys with previous head coaching experience (Woodson, Brown, Cheeks, Vaughn, Drew), three of whom were fired. Granted, some of these teams, like the Bucks and Magic, were flat out bad and lacking talent. But the Knicks, Cavs, and Pistons had arguably enough talent to get into the playoffs over teams like the Hawks (especially without Al Horford), Bobcats, and Wizards.

These statistics aren’t necessarily purely advocating hiring a rookie head coach and/or rejecting the idea of hiring a veteran head coach. However, any fans that are afraid of hiring a first-time NBA head coach just need to look at what happened in the Eastern Conference this year. First-year head coaches can succeed in the NBA, especially in this conference where the third-seeded Toronto Raptors wouldn’t even have made it into the playoffs if they were in the West. If there were ever a time to “risk” going through a possible learning curve with a rookie head coach, this is the time.   Obviously, no head coach can win without talent. It can be argued that head coach Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers doesn’t succeed without the emergence of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, just like it can be argued that head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat fell into a great situation. However, head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls somehow led his team to the fifth and fourth seeds in back-to-back years after star point guard Derrick Rose played only ten games the last two years combined.

One possible option for the Cavs if they decide to go in the direction of a rookie head coach is Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg.



The image above is the short chart from Iowa State’s basketball team this past year, which made the NCAA Tournament as a nine seed, losing to eventual National Champion Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen. This chart is extremely efficient, showing a heavy amount of shots behind that arc and in the paint. Most importantly, there’s a lack of mid range two jumpers, which is an attractive thing. If you’re like me, you’re sick of seeing Jarrett Jack passing up open three’s only to miss a contested mid-range jumper. Hoiberg’s philosophy is predicated on pushing the ball, efficient passing which leads to good, quick shots, and rebounding on the defensive end – all of which are highlighted in this well-done piece on Fear The Sword.

The bottom line with the Cavs coaching search is that Griffin will have plenty of options to choose from, including some names I didn’t even mention such as Mark Jackson, Vinny Del Negro, David Fizdale (Heat), and John Calipari (Kentucky). If David Griffin decides to go with a rookie head coach, don’t fret. The time is now to hire a highly thought of offensive mind to help this young team – led by Irving and Dion Waiters – develop.


About Author

Dan Armelli is currently a junior Public Relations major at Kent State. He has previously written for C-Town and Down and also currently writes for Predominantly Orange. He also thinks writing this bio in third person feels kind of weird.