INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Perhaps Frank Vogel's early success with the Indiana Pacers should be used as a case study.
Vogel replaced the older, gruffer Jim O'Brien at midseason last year. He took a team that was 17-27 and struggling with confidence, infused it with positive energy and a new approach, and led it to a 20-18 finish and a playoff berth.
Team president Larry Bird gave Vogel the full-time gig in the summer, gave him more tools and the Pacers took off. Indiana finished this season with a 42-24 record and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Vogel, just 38, finished third in the coach of the year voting this week. He has quickly found that delicate balance between being liked and being respected by his players. They sing his praises as emphatically as they voiced contempt for O'Brien.
"He came in after O.B. (O'Brien) and kind of changed the mentality, kind of gave everybody their confidence back and we started building from there," said Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough, a frequent target of O'Brien's criticism. "So, not just this year, I think last year, he kind of set a tone for everybody in what we need to do and how we're going to do it, and every step along the way, he got better and better."
Vogel has often deflected credit, saying Bird and a coaching staff that includes holdover Dan Burke and new coaches Brian Shaw and Jim Boylen have put him in position to succeed.
Bird, in turn, has praised Vogel's performance.
"He's handled himself like a true professional," Bird said in March. "He's been around coaches that's had experience and had success in this league and he's learned a lot. I think he's done an exceptional job with these players. I think they trust him and they believe in him and that's why they're winning some games."
Bird certainly deserves his due. Even with young talent and salary cap room, tools that draw big names, he stuck with Vogel. He added guard George Hill and forwards David West and Lou Amundson before the season started and guard Leandro Barbosa at the trade deadline, upgrading the talent and experience levels without breaking the bank.
In the early going, Indiana won games with defense while its offense struggled. Down the stretch this season, Indiana was one of the league's highest-scoring teams while maintaining its defensive intensity. Vogel was named Eastern Conference coach of the month after closing the regular season with a 12-3 record.
"He kind of was just thrown into the shark infested waters last year," said forward Danny Granger, the team's scoring leader. "He didn't have any of that coaching experience when we got rid of O.B. This year, I think he has a lot more confidence in what he's doing. He has a different aura about himself, the way he carries himself."