For better or for worse, the Frank Vogel era is over.
Probably, it’s for worse.
In five-plus seasons, Vogel’s team’s consistently did one thing: Win.
Maybe not enough, some might argue, but the Pacers consistently did one other thing before Vogel’s arrival: Lose.
They did that a lot.
Which is why cutting ties with the coach with the most wins in franchise history makes no sense.
Whatever shortcomings, real or perceived, Vogel has as an X’s and O’s guy, he won — regardless of the material he had to work with.
Recently, the quality hasn’t been had much. But more on that in a moment.
For those with short memories, the Pacers were a mess when Vogel was appointed interim coach in late January 2011. They had a losing record, hadn’t been to the playoffs in four seasons hadn’t won back fans still turned off by the 2004 brawl in Detroit.
But by the end of that interim season, the Pacers were in the postseason for the first time since 2006 and gave fans reason to come back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse — which they did in droves.
In the ensuing five years, the Pacers made the playoffs four times; reached the Eastern Conference Finals twice; and, more importantly, re-kindled the city’s love affair with the team.
The latter was no small task. In the years after the Brawl, the Pacers usually did two things, often in tandem: make news for offcourt incidents, some involving gun play, and lose games.
But Vogel, through his sunny personality and upbeat attitude, quickly mended fences. He put a winning team on the floor, one that played hard, played with passion, and played without superstars.
“Blue Collar, Gold Swagger,” emblazoned on gold T-shirts, became the catchphrase. The Pacers were not only relevant, they were a hot ticket. Fans came back and, for the most part, have remained loyal.
They’ve done so despite consecutive disappointing seasons that can hardly be blamed on Vogel.
Two years ago, with a gutted roster and Paul George out virtually the entire season with a broken leg, the Pacers missed the playoffs for the one and only time in Vogel’s career.
This past season, with a journeymen roster no one apart from Larry Bird would mistake for a contending roster, the Pacers reached the playoffs as a seventh seed. Somehow, they a forced a Game 7 against No. 2 seed Toronto before succumbing in the closing seconds of that final game.
Apparently because of it, Vogel is out of a job.
How does that make sense? It doesn’t.
But here’s the worst part. Vogel is only 42. He’s been through the playoffs wars, with teams that had no business being there, and is without question one of the NBA’s best coaches. One that hasn’t reached his ceiling. One that will soon be winning, and winning big, in another city. Probably for years, if not decades, to come.
What a shame.
Vogel learned his craft here. He was, by all outward appearances, happy here. He won a lot of games here. With a better roster, he would have won a lot more here.
Now, he’ll win them elsewhere.
What was Larry Bird thinking?
That’s a question only he can answer. The explanation he offered Thursday, “I just feel it’s time to move in a different direction,” was hardly enlightening.
Unless Bird has a successor lined up with a championship résumé, and a championship roster ready to hand him, the Vogel move has all the appearances of the kind that will come back to haunt.
If it does, the next fall guy shouldn’t be the coach.
It should be the guy calling the shots.