Catching up with Rick Carlisle

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, October 21st, 2011

What’s the coach been up to during the lockout?

by Mike Fisher

The hallway to Rick Carlisle’s office is not a worn path for reporters. So an invitation is valued and a chance to visit there with the world champion Mavs coach about basketball and beyond is unique. I talk exclusive with Rick about his ‘sudden genius,’ his thoughts on ‘Moneyball’ and the bittersweet circumstances of his eventful summer:

 

There are scribbles on the greaseboard in Carlisle’s handsome office overlooking the Dallas Mavericks practice court at the AAC. I pose a question about the meaning of different ink colors – some NBA guys’ names are in blue, others in green – and Rick responds with his now-familiar chagrin, a double-eyebrow raise and a smile so twisted that it almost turns from horizontal to vertical.

That’s privileged information,’’ Carlisle says.

Carlisle also does his job as a coach differently than some. With four decades in the game, Rick straddles an era that was all about respecting tradition with an era that is about technological innovation and out-of-the-box creativity.

With a Boston Celtics playing career on his resume, there is ample old-school “gut feeling’’ to much of what he does. Let’s call it a Red Auerbach thing.

 

But at the same time, he and the Mavs are on the cutting edge of the use of advanced stats to gather information and come to game-changing conclusions. Let’s call that a Mark Cuban thing.

A big part of my job is to be open-minded, I think,’’ Rick says. “One of the things a young coach wants to learn is that there is not just a single way to accomplish a task. I hope that over the years I’ve expanded my thinking enough to be willing to explore every possible option. It’s all still about having good personnel; a team’s success is player-driven, not system-driven. But I know there is not one single way to accomplish that success. Being resourceful – that’s what this is all about.’’

The Mavs famously employ a full-time coach just for free throws (Gary Boren)… another full-time staffer with great skills in the area of sports psychology (Don Kalkstein) … and another fellow who is an advanced-stats expert. (Roland Beech) . There are other coaches and NBA execs who are being dragged kicking and screaming into this era (see TrueHoop’s note on the unnamed team GM who is unaware of Google). And there are many, many coaches and execs who are unwilling to accept a previous regime’s collection of ideas and people. Carlisle, to the contrary, has embraced every offering (Beech doesn’t occupy the AAC while wearing a white lab coat; he’s got adidas coaching gear like all the other theoretically less academically-oriented assistants).

I ask Rick if it’s fair to compare his riding of the wave of this movement to baseball and “Moneyball.’’

I’ve read the book, and really enjoyed it,’’ Rick says of Michael Lewis’ smart best-seller. “I haven’t seen the (Brad Pitt) movie, but I plan to. Certainly the sports are very, very different, baseball vs. basketball. But the notion of finding the right sort of skills available in the right sort of people, that part of it is universal.’’

As much as ever after this summer, Carlisle knows the differences and similarities between sports. I tell him that I’ve frequently referred to his travels this summer as mirroring Richard Gere’s military motivation in “An Officer And A Gentleman.’’

I got nowhere else to go.’’

Well, it has been bittersweet in a way,’’ says Rick, referring to the lockout that immediately followed the Mavs’ first NBA title in their 31 years of existence. “It’s an unusual circumstance.’’

With no basketball players to coach (or even mention by name, as Carlisle forcefully reminds me), Rick has been “on tour.’’

He’s fielded a congratulatory call from President Barack Obama. He’s been in Ohio participating in a charity golf event. He’s been at the W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy, playing piano and “Name That Tune’’ with the kids. He’s escorted his daughter to elementary school with the Larry O’Brien Trophy alongside. He’s visited Stars practice (telling the story of how the Mavs watched NHL video to reinforce the need to play physically), he’s thrown out the first pitch at a Rangers game, and he’s attended Dallas Cowboys practices on multiple occasions.

Clearly,’’ Cowboys coach Jason Garrett says of Carlisle,’’ he’s the engine behind the whole thing. It just seemed like he made genius coaching decisions at every turn, playing the right guys at the right time. Their team responded and it was just fun as a fan to watch it.”

The “genius’’ thing comes up a lot around Carlisle. So, Rick, I ask, how does it feel to go from being a dope in the summer of 2010 (after you lost to the Spurs) to being a genius in the Summer of 2011 – even though, I assume, your IQ point total hasn’t changed?

I truly don’t pay any attention to that stuff,’’ Rick says. “Am I a better coach than I was? I try to grow all the time. But somebody who critiques a coach’s ability … I don’t even have knowledge of what is said. And not because it’s annoying, or because it’s wrong. Paying attention to things like that only distract me from doing my job. That’s what I’m here for: To do my job.’’

 

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