NEWARK - The NBA features 30 head coaches.

Most are high-profile, glamorous former NBA players such as Doc Rivers, Phil Jackson and Doug Collins.

And then there's Frank Vogel, who used to play point guard for Wildwood - one of the state's smallest public high schools with an enrollment of a little more than 200 students.

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Vogel, 37, is the interim coach of the Indiana Pacers.

He began to pursue this job in 1994 when he transferred from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., to the University of Kentucky with the hopes of getting involved in the program run by then-coach Rick Pitino.

"It was long odds, no question," Vogel said of becoming an NBA head coach. "I always tried to shoot for the moon. I just tried to dream big."

Vogel, who has spent 14 years in the NBA as an assistant coach and video coordinator, became the Pacers' coach when Indiana president and NBA legend Larry Bird fired then-coach Jim O'Brien on Jan. 30.

The Pacers currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

On Monday, Indiana played the New Jersey Nets in a critical game at the Prudential Center, so Vogel bought 13 tickets for friends and family.

"I'm very much enjoying it," Vogel said of his new job before Monday's game. "It is a rollercoaster. The highs are higher and the lows are lower as a head coach."

Monday's first half was one of the lows.

Vogel often stood with his hands on his hips as he watched the first quarters. The Pacers were listless and trailed New Jersey 44-40 at halftime.

* * *

Vogel grew up in Wildwood Crest. Basketball consumed him at an early age.

"He was a gym rat," said Andy Ridgway, who was Vogel's gym teacher at Crest Memorial School.

Ridgway also was an assistant at Wildwood when Vogel played there.

"He could take criticism," Ridgway said. "He had an attitude where if he was doing something wrong, he'd say, 'Show me the right way, and I'll get it, coach.' "

Vogel attended camps as a youngster run by Margate resident Allen "Boo" Pergament.

"Boo had a strong influence on my life even before I got to high school," Vogel said, "as far as teaching me how you can accomplish all things and never be satisfied with what you have. I learned some ball-spinning skills at his camps, and he used those things to show that anything can be achieved with hard work."

Several of Pergament's campers showcased their ball spinning skills at halftime of games at the Palestra in Philadelphia.

Vogel made it to a bigger stage. He appeared on the "Late Show with David Letterman" as a 12-year-old, spinning a basketball on a tooth brush as part of the show's stupid human tricks segment.

Vogel developed into a solid high school player. He averaged seven points and seven assists as a Wildwood senior.

"He couldn't jump. He wasn't very quick," Ridgway said. "But he had basketball smarts."

Vogel did scouting reports for the team. Nothing stood between him and a willingness to work on his game.

In December 1990, he and his mother, Fran, were sleeping in their home when a fire started. The Vogels heard glass breaking and escaped through a back door. The fire gutted the house. Frank didn't miss a practice.

He played at Juniata College after graduating from Wildwood in 1991. After his junior season, he transferred to Kentucky, where Pitino had rebuilt the team into a national power.

Vogel spoke to Pergament about the move.

"He wanted to become a professional coach," Pergament said. "He wanted to go to a school where one of the best coaches was so he could learn from him."

Pergament didn't scoff at Vogel's plan.

"I don't laugh at kids," Pergament said. "But my mind is saying, 'What are you, nuts?' "

The summer before he attended Kentucky, Vogel - with Pergament's help - met Pitino at the Five Star Basketball Camp. But there was still no guarantee of a job at Kentucky for Vogel.

"He and my mother had a more formal discussion about (the move)," Vogel's older brother, Justin, said. "I was in college. I thought it was really cool. It was somebody going after their dream. But obviously you never think that particular first step is going to lead where he is today."

Vogel landed a job at Kentucky working as video coordinator. He took the game film and edited it into highlights for Pitino and his coaches to study. Vogel found mentors in Pitino and Kentucky assistant O'Brien.

Pitino made Vogel chief video coordinator of the Boston Celtics when he became head coach of that team in 1997.

Vogel became an assistant coach when O'Brien became the Boston head coach in 2001. Vogel also served as O'Brien's assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2004-05 and went to Indiana with O'Brien when he was hired in 2007.

O'Brien, even after he was fired, encouraged Vogel to take the Pacers' head job.

That move came on a Sunday, Jan. 30. Justin was preparing to host Fran's 60th birthday party at his home in Howell (Monmouth County). Frank kept calling him.

"My wife and I were scrambling around cleaning the house," Justin said. "I saw he was calling. I was like, 'Why is he calling now?' I didn't take the call. I said, 'I'll give him a call back.' "

Justin then talked to his mother, who told him Frank was named the Pacers' head coach.

"We flipped on ESPN, and you see your brother's name on the ticker on the bottom (of the screen)," Justin said. "It was pretty wild."

Vogel, his wife, Jennifer, and his two daughters, Alexa and Arianna, still make it back to Cape May County in the summer. Justin and his family bought the NBA package, so they can watch Pacers games on television.

"This kid," Pergament said of Vogel, "is an inspiration for anybody in any field to reach out for the stars, to go for a goal. This kid paid the price, pursued his dream. He believed in himself and he achieved it."


Vogel ripped into the Pacers at halftime Monday night.

"We needed it," Pacers center Roy Hibbert said of Vogel's halftime speech. "I'm happy he got into us. Sometimes, we need it."

The coach's words worked.

Indiana began the third quarter with a 9-0 run to build a lead it would never lose. The Pacers staved off a Nets comeback in the final minute to win 102-98.

Indiana (31-40) leads Milwaukee and Charlotte by two games in the race for the final playoff spot.

The Pacers are 14-13 under Vogel. Indiana won seven of its first eight games after Vogel took over.

Former North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough has flourished under Vogel. The forward, who averaged 8.1 points in 42 games before the All-Star break, is averaging 18.7 points in 13 games in March.

"He's brought a lot of confidence to everybody," Hansbrough said. "He brings a lot of enthusiasm. He's worked hard and come up the tough way."

The Pacers have 11 regular-season games left. They face another key game tonight in Charlotte. Vogel knows that even if Indiana does make the playoffs, his basketball future is still uncertain. He's still the interim coach.

"Rick Pitino taught me a long time ago just worry about winning and everything else will take care of itself," he said. "Obviously, I want to keep the job, but I don't think about what I need to do to keep the job. I just think about winning as many games as possible and creating a positive environment for this team."

Vogel thinks about winning all the time. Indiana's playoff push is his own March Madness. A reporter asked him before Monday night's game about the NCAA tournament.

"There's a college tournament going?" Vogel said with a smile. "I wasn't aware of that."

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