Hey L.A.!: Wildwood’s Vogel earned coaching job
Attention Los Angeles Lakers fans, reporters and talk show hosts.
We need to talk.
On Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers introduced 1991 Wildwood High School graduate Frank Vogel as head coach.
The reaction in southern California was skeptical.
What Lakers pundits wondered is how Vogel is going to coach LeBron James.
How can a coach who lost 110 games in his last two seasons with the Orlando Magic lead the Lakers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013?
How is Vogel going to navigate his relationship with his assistant coach and former NBA great Jason Kidd?
The answers to the above questions can be found in how Vogel became one of 32 NBA head coaches.
Most NBA head coaches are high-profile, glamorous former players such as Doc Rivers and Steve Kerr.
Not Vogel. He’s a former Cape-Atlantic League point guard.
Wildwood High School is one New Jersey’s smallest public schools with an enrollment of fewer than 300 students. It’s located in a nondescript building on Pacific Avenue a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean and 2,840 miles from the Staples Center, the home of the Lakers.
It’s a journey you don’t make if you’re not incredibly determined, motivated and mentally tough.
“A lot of people doubted me,” Vogel said at a Wildwood assembly in 2013. “It was then I learned the value of persistence and not listening to those that doubt you.”
Vogel was a solid player at Wildwood, averaging seven points and seven assists as a senior. How important was basketball to him?
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. Vogel didn’t miss a practice.
He began pursuing a career in coaching in 1994 while a student at NCAA Division III Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Vogel could have coached at Juniata or gotten involved at a local high school.
Instead, he chased a job at one of the nation’s most famous college basketball programs.
Vogel transferred from Juaniata to the University of Kentucky to get involved in the program run by then-coach Rick Pitino. There were no guarantees of any high-profile positions.
“It was long odds, no question,” Vogel said in 2011. “I always tried to shoot for the moon. I just tried to dream big.”
Vogel eventually spent 14 years in the NBA as an assistant coach and video coordinator.
The Indiana Pacers and general manager Larry Bird named him interim head coach Jan. 30, 2011. He eventually was named full-time coach, leading the Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals in 2013 and 2014.
Vogel faces multiple challenges in Los Angeles — none of them his own making.
The Lakers are one of the world’s premier sports franchises. But right now they are a hot mess.
A few hours before the Lakers introduced Vogel to the media, Lakers great Magic Johnson appeared on ESPN and trashed the franchise. Lakers owner Jeanie Buss didn’t even appear at Vogel’s news conference.
Vogel took those distractions in stride and calmly outlined his vision for the Lakers to reporters.
“I am a positive-energy, enthusiasm type of a coach, and I’m going to spread that to everybody that will feel it,” he said during his news conference.
There’s also something else Lakers Nation needs to know. The Lakers dominate the southern California spotlight, but there are three cities in the country — Philadelphia, New York and Boston — where sports are, shall we say, a bit more intense.
Vogel grew up a 76ers fan. He understands the pressure to win. The Los Angeles scene won’t phase him.
“I’m very good at blocking out noise,” Vogel told the Los Angeles reporters.
And remember the last time the Cape-Atlantic League sent someone West was 10 years ago this June. He was a high school baseball player from Millville, and people doubted him too.
Twenty-three major league teams passed on him in the 2009 draft. He was from New Jersey, where the quality of baseball supposedly couldn’t compare to warm weather states.
How did Mike Trout work out for you, my southern California friends?
So trust me, L.A. reporters, fans and talk show hosts, Frank Vogel will be just fine with the Lakers.
He’s a guy and story worth rooting for.
Michael McGarry’s Must Win column appears Fridays in The Press.
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