Stan Van Gundy is my favorite coach EVER.
Now, he's out of job.
According to ESPN:
The Magic fired coach Stan Van Gundy on Monday and agreed to part ways with general manager Otis Smith, severing ties with two of the architects of one of the most successful runs in franchise history.
Smith and Van Gundy's relationship with [Dwight] Howard was the centerpiece of drama the team faced all season and following their second straight first-round playoff exit, CEO Alex Martins said the shift was warranted.
Van Gundy was frumpy. Van Gundy was honest. Van Gundy was himself.
He was a wonderful coach, and I'm sad to see him gone from my favorite basketball team.
And apparently I'm not the only one to think this way.
An Orlando Sentinel poll populated by what probably were the most disgruntled of fans had this to say about Stan Van Gundy:
Yes, a good majority of the hometown fans wanted Van Gundy to stay. After first-round playoff losses two years in a row. How often can a fired coach say that? Try to think of one. I can't think of a coach who was more popular with fans that ended up being fired. Cavs fans certainly weren't clamoring for Mike Brown to stay when he was fired in a somewhat similar situation.
Maybe Orlando fans are just weird. Let's try a national audience, then:
Yeah, almost nobody blames Van Gundy for what happened the past two years. Smith, yes. Howard, to an extent. Van Gundy, not so much.
And as a longtime Magic fine, it's easy to see why. Van Gundy is a d*** fine basketball coach. When the Orlando Magic's offense was clicking, it was beautiful to watch. Not San Antonio Spurs beautiful – let's not kid ourselves, he's no Gregg Popovich – but beautiful nonetheless. As someone who likes to watch the 3-ball fly, I was never disappointed during Van Gundy's tenure. He also was an excellent defensive coach who helped Howard win three Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Stan Van Gundy is to coaching what Vinny Del Negro is to NOT coaching.
By all accounts, Van Gundy watched video tenaciously and was one of the best-prepared coaches in the game. Some players – such as Ryan Anderson, J.J. Redick and Rashard Lewis – swear by him. Others – such as Dwight Howard – simply wanted to swear at him. He was an acquired taste, and unfortunately one the superstar – Howard – never acquired.
Even CEO Martins, the man who ostensibly fired Van Gundy, couldn't find fault with how he coached THE GAME.
Stan is one of the best strategic coaches in the current NBA. But the job requires more than that.
Let's read between the lines. The job also required keeping Howard happy.
Certainly, I wish Van Gundy would have kept his comments about Howard wanting him out in-house – not because of what he said, but because he should have spoken with Howard about it before the media. That would have been more honorable. But perhaps I would have done the same in his shoes.
Furthermore, Van Gundy was someone who grew with the job. He realized his on-court demeanor – best described as frantic and antagonistic toward referees – wasn't helping things. So, he spoke with professionals about it during the offseason and was much improved this year. One technical the entire season. That's growth.
He might have lived and died with every play for better or worse, but he was passionate about coaching and the Magic and was good at his job. Fans couldn't ask for anything more from a coach. Superstars, on the hand …
I will remain an Orlando Magic fan because that's what true fans do. But I'll be rooting for his next team. And I hope his next franchise shows him the respect he has earned.
• Going for Gusto is a blog by Joe Grace that looks for the awesome in life. Please support Going for Gusto by liking the Facebook page at Facebook.com/GoingForGusto.
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