Arizona Basketball

Opie look-alike Steve Kerr can thrive in New York metropolis as Knicks coach


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Steve Kerr can become the first former Arizona to become an NBA head coach next season

Steve Kerr can become the first former Arizona player to become an NBA head coach next season

The New York Knicks, playing in Madison Square Garden, in the most populated city in the United States, seems like an outlandish fit for somebody who has never been an NBA coach and was nicknamed “Opie” by his teammates during his Arizona days.

Don’t be fooled. Steve Kerr only looked like Opie Taylor when he was with the Wildcats. He is more New York City than Mayberry R.F.D. with his Final Four with Arizona, five NBA titles and ability to deliver keen insight in front of the national TV cameras as a broadcaster.

Stephen A. Smith, who ESPN anoints as an expert, believes Kerr is more of an NBA executive (with his general manager background with Phoenix) and is not cut out to be an NBA head coach.


“I don’t see a guy on his grind motivating Melo (Carmelo Anthony) and Amar’e (Stoudemire) everyday,” Smith said Tuesday with a pained look on his face. “I don’t see it.”

Wasn’t that the same criticism of Lute Olson when Arizona lost in its first three trips to the NCAA tournament from 1985-87? Olson does not motivate his players. He needs to fire up his guys better.

How is that Hall of Fame plaque looking Olson? That NCAA title ring sure looks nice.

What Smith does not understand — which is a surprise because he is supposed to be an NBA insider — is the last thing players at that level need is a grinder as a coach. It is an 82-game regular season followed by an extensive postseason into June if a team is fortunate.

Phil Jackson, Kerr’s potential boss with New York, was not a chest-beating, fist-on-the-table brow-beater. He was intelligent enough to allow talent such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal some room to breathe.

When did Jordan or Bryant require a motivational coach? If an NBA player needs somebody like that, he will be on the waiver line sooner than in the starting lineup.

Kerr’s lack of head coaching experience is a legitimate question but not a concern.

First-year coaches Dave Joerger of Memphis and Mike Budenholzer of Atlanta had impressive road wins against the NBA elite in the opening week of the playoffs. Memphis beat Oklahoma City and the Hawks routed Indiana.

Jeff Hornacek, not the rah-rah type, coached the Suns to a 48-34 record in his first season as an NBA coach.

Kerr has the moxie and personality that relates well with today’s NBA player. He knows what it takes to win at that level. He played for Jackson and San Antonio’s Greg Popovich, two immortals in the coaching profession. That followed his career at Arizona under Olson, whose systematic way of doing things leaves an indelible mark on his players.

“Lute Olson, he was so good with the detail of the game that sometimes in practice you’d get annoyed with him because he would just stop and correct every little mistake,” Luke Walton said during his induction into the Pac-12 Hall of Fame in Las Vegas last month.

“After the months and years of being with him, you didn’t make those mistakes again.”

Olson has a strong track record of former players excelling as head coaches.

Memphis continues to be an annual NCAA tournament team under Josh Pastner, who is 130-44 in four seasons with the Tigers.

Reggie Geary coached a team in Japan to the professional league title there.

Kerr’s backcourt mate at Arizona, Craig McMillan, coached Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College to the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) state title this season.

McMillan, who achieved his 300th victory as a head coach this season, was selected the CCCAA coach of the year.

Of course, coaching in Japan and at the NCAA and junior college level is a few notches below the NBA. On the same plain, however, is their ability to get the most out of their players.

Damon Stoudamire, who will be in high demand in the next couple of years, is another former Olson player who will have a lot more wins than losses as a head coach. Jason Gardner, the epitome of detail and hard work, will make Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) relevant in that basketball-crazed state.

Walton was an assistant coach for the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the D-League this season. Walton, another Jackson and Olson protege, would be a wise choice to be part of Kerr’s staff with the Knicks.

Jackson told the New York media Wednesday that he and Kerr share similar philosophies. Jackson has 11 NBA titles as a coach. Kerr is a five-time champ. Business 101: Winners surround themselves with other winners.

“We have a strong connection,” Jackson said. “Whether he’s able to take a job like this, I don’t know. I’ll get in the conversation with him later on this month and talk to him about it, and see where he’s at as far as his desire to coach.”

Translation: If Kerr wants the Knicks’ job, it is his.

Opie can take Manhattan. publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.


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