Jacque Vaughn is the new head coach of the Orlando Magic. My first recollection of him was as a point guard on Tear Drop Roy’s best Kansas Jayhawk team. Vaughn was the undisputed leader of a team that featured future hall of famer Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz and Scott Pollard. Dick Vitale loved him, named him one of his 100 or so “All-Americans” and speculated that his popularity was such that he could run for governor of Kansas and win. Tear Drop Roy’s Jayhawks lost in March as they always did, and I took perverse pleasure in his tears dancing around my living room cackling like Satan’s helper.
I didn’t think much of Jacque Vaughn as a player. He was short, not athletic by professional standards and couldn’t shoot. Despite his big name as I college player, I correctly surmised that he would fail to make a ripple in the NBA. All this being true, he somehow lingered in the league like a stale fart for an astounding twelve years. It is for this reason that I am optimistic about his tenure as the Magic coach.
Vaughn is by all accounts a personable and well-liked man. His longevity in the league as a deep bench player confirms this. Nobody needs a delusional, high maintanence moron on the end of their bench. It also speaks to an intelligent, realism that is critical to coaching. Vaughn bright enough to realize and accept his limitations as a player, but did not allow them to define his contribution to the team. His twelve years in the league evidence a love and passion for the game of basketball, and I suspect that the last half of his playing career was more a coaching apprenticeship than anything else, and during that time he saw some of the greats work firsthand in Doc Rivers and Greg Popovic.
Since retiring as a player two years ago, Vaughn joined Pop’s staff in San Antonio whereby Pop himself has anointed him a “star”. Pop is not one given to hyperbole so this in itself is high praise. The critique of Vaughn is a lack of coaching experience which is unavoidable given circumstances, but I do not rate this consideration very highly. The Magic are rebuilding, and can afford to allow Vaughn to learn on the job. He will make mistakes this season, the key will be what he learns from those mistakes.
I am optimistic because I see in Vaughn a young, intelligent and motivated man of considerable leadership qualities and underrated experience. He has been in winning situations his entire life, and always found a way to contribute something of value. This is an often intangible quality, but essential to coaching.
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