Randy Wittman learned one thing after taking over as interim coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves midway through last season.
"That I don't want to do it again," Wittman said Wednesday after signing a multi-year contract that makes him the permanent replacement for Dwane Casey in Minnesota.
Randy Wittman gave that quote after a tumultuous ride as interim coach of the T-Wolves. There was a slim shot at the 2007 playoffs when Wittman was elevated in late January, with the team near .500; that chance quickly dissolved into a 32-50 record as Wittman called the team out on chemistry issues and poor attitude. GM Kevin McHale bet on what many have called Wittman's 'disciplinarian schtick' straightening out the locker room and getting the squad on the same page.
"It does make a difference when you start from a situation we're starting from now rather than an interim," Wittman said. "I'm just grateful for the opportunity to put my stamp on this team and do it the way I think it needs to be done, and have a full contract to do it."
The hard-nosed Wittman said the Timberwolves would focus more on defence next season and he promised to hold players accountable for their actions on and off the court.
He was canned in early 2008/09 for McHale after compiling a 38-105 record in the wake of the Kevin Garnett trade. Wizards fans can't help but note the parallels of a coach trying to hold a dysfunctional, talent-deficient squad together while preaching defensive commitment. That Wittman got to witness Flip Saunders in a similarly adverse situation offered him a unique opportunity to view what was and wasn't working with the Wizards roster without the pressure and responsibility of a head coaching role. That translated into some late season success which probably owes more, if not most, to the presence of Nene.
So much of success is surrounding yourself with the right people and Randy truly has that opportunity under Ernie Grunfeld and Ted Leonsis. Wittman is fully cognizant of the blue-collar, lunch pail nature of the roster and one can't think he is anything but grateful for that. Especially watching his predecessor's struggles.
I despise pithy truisms as a rule, but 'when you lose, don't lose the lesson' holds some water here and I think that's something we don't have to worry about in Wittman's third iteration as a head coach:
"I’m really one that wants great people around him. I’m not intimidated by that," said Wittman, adding that he’s learned from failings in Minnesota and Cleveland. "Coaching is coaching. I ain’t going to invent a new offensive or defensive system that nobody’s ever seen that I’m going to be branded the next genius."
It is either moderately refreshing or moderately alarming to hear a head coach talking that way before the season begins, but it's an attitude Wittman has fully embraced. It's also led to the hirings of Don Newman and Jerry Sichting. Of course, that sort of hard-nosed approach can also sound somewhat fatalistic:
"There’s nothing you can worry about," Wittman said. "When you get hired, you’re bound to get fired. You don’t worry about it. I’m not. You’ve got to prepare each day. That’s what I’ve got to continue to do.
Sometimes Randy's quotes require a little translation. When he says that, I'm reminded of the scout from Moneyball talking about how no one can play the kids game forever, everybody gets told. That's true in the NBA as well, one way or the other. It feels like the right professional message for the Wizards this year. Get ready, get out there, and leave it on the floor. This is your shot and who knows if you get another one?
That's especially true for Randy Wittman. This is the kind of team his approach is made for and now it's on him to get results. Of course, this is the exactly the kind of challenge a head coach lives for.