Nate McMillan’s Monday introduction as the Indiana Pacers’ new head coach provided insight on what he's learned from previous coaching jobs to what he’ll expect from his next team.
After Pacers president Larry Bird made the formal announcement that he had hired McMillan, a top assistant to Frank Vogel in Indiana the past three years, the new head coach insisted it wasn’t a job that he pursued.
Bird acknowledged he was unsure of McMillan’s interest until the Sacramento Kings asked for and received permission to speak to the assistant. When McMillan returned from visiting with the Kings, Bird talked with him and eventually decided the ideal man to succeed Vogel was already inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I wasn’t chasing this opportunity to be another head coach,” said McMillan, 51, who has previously had the position with Seattle (2000-05) and Portland (2005-12). “It had to be the right opportunity for me. In the three years that I’ve been here, there’s only two times that I’ve even considered getting back into head coach, or a position I wanted.”
The first was last year, when an unspecified job was filled by someone else, and then when the Kings called Bird for permission this offseason.
As in his playing days as a point guard for a dozen years in Seattle, where his No. 10 is retired, McMillan is known for his emphasis on defense. He was twice named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team and led the league in steals at 2.96 per game in 1994-95.
Bird has said he didn’t renew Vogel’s contract because he thought the Pacers needed a “new voice.”
McMillan admits he’s “old school” in his approach to the game and demanding maximum effort at all times, but also conceded he’s learned a lot from his previous coaching stints as well as serving as an assistant for the U.S. National Team, which twice won Olympic gold medals, as well as the three years with Vogel.
Specifically, McMillan says he realizes today’s coaches must adapt to a different style of player.
“I do understand you have to adapt to this generation of players, they call them the millenniums, as far as how you communicate with them, prepare them and that’s something we started talking about when I was with U.S. basketball and coach ‘K’ (Mike Krzyzewski) and his staff.
“The one thing about me is I had to play this way. We’re going to respect the game. We’re going to respect our opponents. We’re going to respect that name on the front of the jersey. All of that is really important. And what I mean by respect the game, you mentally and you physically prepare yourself to go out and play hard every single night, every single night.”
McMillan had a 478-452 record (.514) in his previous head coaching stints. In 2008-09, he led the Trail Blazers to a 54-28 record, the sixth-best regular-season mark in franchise history. His teams advanced to the playoffs five times, but only survived the opening round once, when Seattle lost in the second round in 2004-05. He has a 14-20 (.412) playoff record.
The Pacers were 250-181 (.580) under Vogel, who was the winningest coach in the franchise’s NBA history. He took five of six teams to the playoffs and twice advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. Vogel had a 31-30 (.508) playoff record.
Last season, the Pacers were 45-37 and earned a seventh seed in the playoffs, where they pushed second-seeded Toronto to the final game before losing the seven-game series. Indiana’s returning cast is led by three-time All-Star forward Paul George, who had the best season of his six-year career in averaging 23.1 points per game. Rookie forward-center Myles Turner, the team’s 2015 first-round selection, came on later in the year and started 30 regular-season games then the last four in the playoffs.
McMillan noticed in Game 3 of the Toronto series how the Pacers’ home arena had what he considered too many Raptors fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I want this fan base, I was us to get Bankers Life rocking and rolling,” he said. “I want this team to be a team that this state is proud of. I know we have an impact, we will have an impact on how people get up and go to work in the morning, whether they feel good or bad, that weight on our shoulders, I want us to understand that so every night we come out and we are giving our all and we’re trying to take this team to the next level.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.