INDIANAPOLIS — Assistant coach Frank Vogel, a 1991 Wildwood High School graduate, became coach of the Indiana Pacers for the rest of the season when team president Larry Bird fired Jim O’Brien on Sunday.
The Pacers went 121-169 under O’Brien in three seasons and are 17-27 this season. O’Brien was ejected in his final game, a 110-89 loss to Chicago on Saturday.
Vogel, a Wildwood Crest native, was a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards, and served as an assistant coach for O’Brien in Philadelphia and Boston.
Many fans criticized O’Brien because he constantly changed lineups, at times leaving players inactive, then suddenly making them starters and sometimes leaving players who were performing well on the bench for long stretches.
Vogel said continuity is important, but he’ll be careful.
“You want to have a steady rotation, but if you’re losing games, how do you stick with a steady rotation?” Vogel said. “We’re trying to find combinations that work, and you’ll see that play out over the next few weeks.”
The Pacers were one of the league’s leaders in field-goal percentage defense early in the season, but Indiana allowed more than 110 points four times during its six game skid.
“You are what you work on,” Vogel said. “The first half of the year, we were a defensive-minded team. We got so good on defense, and we were winning games with it. But our offense was killing us, so we made a dramatic shift to improve our offensive execution in practice. That has come and that has improved, but the defense has slipped. We have to find a balance.”
Vogel, 37, has not been a head coach in the league. Bird doesn’t think that will hinder his relationship with the players.
“They will respond,” Bird said. “I’ve already talked to a couple of them, and they’re going to do everything they can to help Frank out. The players will react.”
Bird said he expects Vogel to lead the Pacers to the playoffs this season.
“I said that three years ago, that I think in the third year, this team should make the playoffs,” he said. “We’re 10 games under .500. I’m not saying we’re going to win a championship, but this team should make the playoffs.”
Bird said the team’s overall plan is on track. He said the team already has a solid group of young players and will have significant salary cap space in the offseason.
“We have a three-year plan and we’re right on it,” he said. “I looked the other day and we’re going to have more money than anybody in the summer to go out and either trade one of our expiring contracts or go into the free agency market and get the pieces we need.”