Harris: Coaching in NBA different

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Del Harris, who served as an NBA head coach for 12 seasons and assistant for 21 campaigns after working on both the high school and college levels, says it takes a certain breed to lead a pro team.

“The biggest thing is all the relationships are different,” said the 72-year-old Harris, featured speaker at Bill Self’s Kansas University basketball camp in Allen Fieldhouse.

“As the coach (of NBA team) you move to the bottom of the totem pole and you’ve got to deal with that with confidence and authority, knowing ahead of time you are the low guy.

“Here it’s your program. Everybody knows you are going to be here. You’ve got control of the scholarship and all that. (In NBA) the only control you have is what you can garner up through your personality and being effective,” added Harris, head coach of the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, who retired after the 2008-09 season, one in which he worked on Vinny Del Negro’s Chicago Bulls staff.

“Those guys (pros) will listen to you if they think you can help them.”

Harris — he’s authored three books on basketball — was asked if he thought Self could coach in the NBA.

“I mean, I don’t know why not,” Harris said. “I don’t know why he would want to change. It’s not for one guy to say some guy can or can’t. I will say this ... not speaking of Bill, or Joe or Bob, anybody who has not coached in the NBA needs to become an assistant in the NBA first because everything is different in the NBA,” he added, referring to “the pace of the game, style of the game, rules of the game,” as well as the afore-mentioned relationships with players, who make more money than the coach.

Several college coaches — most notably Rick Pitino, Lon Kruger, Mike Montgomery, Jerry Tarkanian, P.J. Carlesimo, Tim Floyd, Leonard Hamilton and John Calipari — all failed as NBA mentors. Four coaches have gone from college and won NBA titles: KU’s Larry Brown, Gregg Popovich, Chuck Daly and Bill Fitch.

“The first thing all the guys that make the changeover say, ‘We had no idea,’’’ Harris said of all the coaching that takes place in NBA games. “You coach more in the NBA than college or high school. The games are longer. The scouting is deeper. This is all the pros do — they just do basketball. They don’t have class, this or that and have so much experience. An NBA team ... they have to know 60 plays. No college team is going to know 60 plays. You can’t. They’re not ready for it. It has to do with maturation.”

KU coach Self, who hasn’t ruled out a possible jump to the NBA someday, is a big fan of coaching legend Harris, who along with former Kentucky and Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie, served as guest speakers at his annual coaching clinic, which attracted several hundred high school, small college and juco coaches.

“I’ve known Del for three years. I was recently with him doing a clinic. He just retired and is looking for stuff to do, to go watch ball. He asked if he could come watch practice. I said, ‘You can if you come speak at our clinic,’’’ Self said with a smile. “He’s been an NBA coach 33, 35 years. There are few guys who have done it longer than him. He’s a basketball junkie, who has given our profession 50 years. He’s a defensive guru, a living legend.”

Harris’ career is a testament to the craziness of coaching in the pros.

“He won a ton of games. He got let go after winning 61 games in a season,” Self said, shaking his head. Indeed, the Lakers fired Harris in 1999 after leading L.A. to a 61-21 mark in 1997-98.