INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — To his credit, Larry Bird didn’t make anyone wait.
He started his end-of-the-season news conference promptly on Thursday morning and came right out with it: head coach Frank Vogel would not return for the next season.
“I’ve decided that it’s time for a new voice around here,” Bird said. “Sometimes my job really sucks, and this is one of the toughest things I’ve done because of the respect I have for Frank.”
Bird said he watched the team throughout the season and while many people didn’t think the Pacers would make the playoffs, he had higher expectations. In the end, he felt the coaching change was a decision he had to make.
“I just came to the conclusion that it was necessary for these guys to hear a new voice. But it’s tough. Frank’s not getting fired. His contract’s up.”
Vogel issued this statement Thursday afternoon:
I would like to express my sincerest thanks to the Simon family, Larry Bird and the entire Indiana Pacers organization for giving me the opportunity to serve as the head coach of this team for the past six seasons. This is one of the top-flight organizations in the National Basketball Association and I truly enjoyed every minute I spent as the leader of this group of men.
During my time with the Pacers, we made a lot of positive memories and none of that would have been possible without the support of Larry, the front office and all of the players I had the opportunity to coach. We consistently battled through thick and thin, and that is something that I am very proud of.
Lastly, I want to give a huge thanks to Pacers fans in Indiana and across the country. You all have treated my family and me with kindness and class throughout our time here and I can’t thank you enough for that. My family and I consider Indianapolis home and this community will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Bird said he believes Vogel will get a new job somewhere else. Vogel became interim head coach during the 2010-2011 season after taking over for ousted coach Jim O’Brien. He led the team to five appearances in the postseason and compiled a 250-181 record in the regular season. The Pacers struggled in the playoffs, however, and couldn’t get past the Miami Heat twice in the Eastern Conference Finals (2013 and 2014).
“The hard part about it, like I told Frank, since he’s been here five-and-a-half years and has young children, to move his family and take the kids out of school–I went through that. It’s one of the toughest things.”
Bird said he wished Vogel the best and was looking forward to finding a new leader for the team. Bird repeatedly referenced how players needed a new voice when he spoke in front of the media Thursday.
“Every day the same voice… I think guys sometimes tune that out. It happens. It’s unfortunate, but from my experience, Frank was here for five-and-a-half years, and that’s a long time for me for a coach.”
Bird didn’t tip his hand when it came to potential coaching candidates for the Pacers. He did say the new coach wouldn’t necessarily have to be a former player or possess NBA coaching experience. He told reporters that hiring Kevin McHale, his former teammate with the Boston Celtics, was absolutely out of the question.
“I would not do that to Kevin, to have him work for me. That’s just not fair. I respect the man too much and we’ve been through too many battles together to bring him in here and be my coach. I would love for him to be my coach, but it ain’t gonna happen because of our relationship.”
Bird talked to Vogel Thursday morning before making his decision public. He said Vogel tried to talk him out of it, expressing how much he loved the city and the Pacers. Bird wouldn’t comment on how close Vogel came to convincing him.
When it comes to selecting a new coach, Bird said players wouldn’t have any input on the decision. Once the team is closing in on its new coach, he said he “might run it by” a “couple of guys” before making a final decision. He told reporters he had a list of candidates but didn’t say who was on that list.
“It really is a tough deal,” Bird said. “I’ll take my time, make sure we get the right guy to lead them.”
Bird’s biggest issue centered around the team’s offense. He said the defense had been “great,” but the team needed to score more points. He also disliked the up-and-down nature of this year’s Pacers team, which had a tendency to play great one night and then disappear the next. And as for the postseason, Bird wants a better ending than a first-round loss to the Toronto Raptors.
“I expect to be in the playoffs and make it through a few rounds.”
Bird also expressed optimism for the team’s future, which already has a strong foundation with Paul George and Myles Turner.