"This is probably the most pressure that I've ever had as far as being a head coach in my first season because we are inheriting a team that's built to win for the first time in my career." -- Tim Floyd, on taking over as the Hornets head coach
"I was forced to have [patience] while I was in the middle of it. You didn't and you'd have found the tallest building in Chicago." -- Floyd, on coaching the Bulls
Tim Floyd went from the heights of coaching college basketball to the very depths of coaching in the NBA. After turning around three different college programs -- the University of Idaho, the University of New Orleans and Iowa State -- Floyd took the unenviable task of trying to replace not only Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson but also the team's superstars, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
It was a disaster from start to finish; a revolving door of personnel forced Floyd to go through 96 players in three and a half seasons, and all he had to show for it was a 49-190 record -- the worst record of any NBA coach with a minimum of 200 games. Floyd resigned, and he and his wife, Beverly, returned to New Orleans where he went on what would become an 18-month sabbatical until he received a dream offer: to coach the New Orleans Hornets. He signed a three-year deal worth $4.8 million -- an average of $1.6 million annually, minus incentives.
Though his starting unit remains intact, Floyd comes into a changed Hornets atmosphere, including new faces on his roster, the return of former coach and general manager Allen Bristow, and his own coaching staff that includes former Los Angeles Clippers coach Alvin Gentry and veteran college and pro coach Jan Van Breda Kolff.
Even this job comes with potential pitfalls. Floyd, a questionable choice in many circles, is replacing a popular coach in Paul Silas, who guided the team through tragedy, the move from Charlotte, and injuries to key players Jamal Mashburn and Baron Davis -- and finished as the Hornets' leader in coaching victories. Many suspect ownership didn't want to meet Silas' contract demands, and hired Floyd as a bargain replacement. (His contract is the lowest of the new coaches this season.) Also, Floyd's time in Chicago became the focal point of several negative articles by Chicago Tribune sportswriter Sam Smith, who has accused Floyd of everything from poor preparation to antagonizing both his superiors and "virtually every player" on the team.
Floyd vehemently denies the charges -- most of which Smith made in one article lacking in attribution from identified sources -- and it's obvious the stories bother him more than his experience in Chicago.
Still, talk to Floyd and you hear a man who knows he's gotten a second chance. He has inherited a veteran team with two potential all-stars, three starters capable of scoring 20 points in a game, and, when healthy, is a serious contender for the Eastern Conference title.
Tall with dirty-blond hair and a relaxed smile, the 49-year-old Hattiesburg, Miss., native and Louisiana Tech graduate appears to be what many say he is: a chatty, amiable man who exudes a self-deprecating Southern charm. When he begins an hour-long interview inside his sparse office in the Alario Center, he eschews his desk to sit down at a nearby table. He measures his words carefully as he explains everything from his passion for po-boys to his team's chances.
Q: You getting squared away yet?
A: I hadn't yet. I tell ya, there've been other things taking priority over decorating at this point. But I gotta get my wife down here to do that for me.
Q: Where do you live?
A: We've got a condo down in the Warehouse District. It was an old casket company. I like to go to the True Brew Cafe, that's my spot. I'm the guy out front with my dog tied up to the meter. I got a little cocker spaniel. Really, it's my wife's dog, but I got close to him during my 18 months out, so we became partners.
Q: What did you do during your time off?
A: Just really trying to do a lot of things that I had wanted to do but never had time to do. Really taking time for myself and family. Trying to lose some weight. Trying to get a little better on the golf course. I went from 228 to 188, and since I've taken this job two months ago, the lunches with (general manager) Bob Bass have put on 10 pounds at the West Bank spots. I've tried to stay away from the shrimp po-boys, which were my weakness during the (previous) time I was down here.
Q: So you're one of the few people who came to New Orleans to lose weight.
A: Well, just the timing of it worked that way. Coming down here that February I decided I needed to get off my tail and go to work ... I was a burrito short of Jackie Gleason after I left the Bulls. So it was time to go to work.
Q: What's your favorite restaurant since you moved back?
A: Obviously, we love the old standbys. We're big fans of the fancier ones like Galatoire's and Eleven 79. From Irene's, to Zeke's, to RioMar. So we've just kind of hit 'em all.
We spent last summer out at Zephyr Stadium watching the Zephyrs play every night they were in town. My nephew, (outfielder) Kyle Logan, has played for the Zephyrs both summers we've been down here.
Q: Can you compare and contrast what you believe you learned at UNO and at Iowa State?
A: I think the New Orleans experience was fun. It was fun because we won at a high level, with four conference championships in our first five years. That's always gonna be fun. When you factor in that and the fact that we loved this city, and we didn't have to leave the city to recruit, it made it really special because we were building. And I think sometimes the building part is more fun than what the ultimate result is. And, it was our first experience with a big-city media.
The difference with Iowa State would be that the stakes appeared to be higher going in because the conference had a reputation of being one of the better conferences in the country. But it was actually an easier job than New Orleans because the conference (Big Eight) and its name made it easier to recruit. We could get in more homes, we didn't have to look under every pine tree for a player. And I think as a result, we probably enjoyed the experience here in New Orleans even more so than Iowa State just because there was so much more we had to put into it to get it to a national level.
Q: When you became the Hornets coach, you didn't necessarily have to deal with new player personnel so much as new coaching and management personnel. You had to put together a staff, and the front office has a different look. The changes are more top-heavy.
A: In many ways, this is probably the most pressure that I've ever had as far as (being) a head coach in my first season because we are inheriting a team that's built to win for the first time in my career. It was not the case in my four previous jobs, at Idaho, the University of New Orleans, at Iowa State, and the Chicago Bulls. This team has expectations. Early in my career I did not want the expectations. I wanted to take over downtrodden places and try to turn 'em (around) through recruiting, and bringing in players that I thought could play at a higher level than what the university was currently playing at. I thought it would lead to a longer career.
At this point in my life, and after experiencing the, uh ... the losses that we experienced in Chicago, and knowing that it takes longer to turn teams around in the NBA because of only having one draft pick a year, I was just really grateful for the expectations because this team is built to win. And in this league, it's always important, winning at the highest level, and this team certainly is a veteran group that knows how to win.
And our biggest question, are they comfortable with the level of success that they've had or do they want more? And I think all those things will have to be answered as we ask them to do things that they may not have done before throughout training camp, and see how receptive they are to try to take it to the next level.
Q: Expand on that.
A: Any time you have a new coach and a new system employed -- no two coaches do it exactly the same way. So we may, well, we certainly will be putting things in front of them that maybe they haven't done before. If they're comfortable with the level of success that they've had in the past, then they may not be as receptive to new ideas that would affect that comfort zone. If they want more, then they're gonna be willing to accept anything that's presented, with the idea that might lead towards a higher level of success. That'll be our biggest challenge.
Q: In watching the team last year, what did you like about them, and what were things you didn't like?
A: What I liked about them was the fact that they were a smart team, they were a team that was willing to share the basketball. I wouldn't offer an opinion on what I didn't like without consulting with the players first about what they didn't like. In this case, there wasn't anything they didn't like. It was more about what they think they could do to get better, to continue to improve on. And I felt like that was a necessary first step on our part, was to give them some ownership of what we're going to work on since they're a veteran group.
Q: You asked each player to provide five things last year's team could have done better.
A: If they were talking to Paul Silas, what five things would they tell him that the team could've done better to have gone to a higher level this next year.
Q: What were some of the common threads that came out of that?
A: Oh, just, you know, I don't want to speak for the players because I think that would be a violation of what our conversations were about.
Q: Did they surprise you? Did you anticipate some of the answers, and they sort of confirmed what you might have thought?
A: I was just open. I went into it from the standpoint that I just wanted to listen, with no preconceived notions as to what they might say. And I think the guys had some things they felt like to a man, this team could do better. And I just told them that that's what I'm going to do, is we're gonna make sure we are better in those area.
Q: How different will this year's team look from last year's team?
A: Well, the offense will look different, as we won't run the same system of play. It will be a different system play.
Q: How different?
A: Just the format from which we will play out of. Like (with) Paul, we're still going to try to allow guys to catch the ball in areas where they're comfortable catching them. But how we get to that point will be different. Our hope is that our second unit will be more productive scoring the ball, just because our personnel has changed, with the addition of Darrell Armstrong and Sean Rooks and David West. That in itself will allow us to try to have a different approach with the second unit, because there were times last year when David Wesley, Jamal Mashburn and Baron Davis weren't in the game and it was a struggle scoring the basketball. Hopefully we'll be better in that area.
Q: Is it deceiving that this team finished 19th in scoring, because Baron Davis was out so much, or does that speak to the bench play, or a little bit of both?
A: I think that when you look at this team, there were probably three consistent scorers: Mashburn, David Wesley and Baron Davis. That probably speaks to that more than any other thing. And I think what Bob (Bass) has done is probably add a little bit more firepower.
Q: The drafting of David West, when you look at the timing of it, seemed like an insurance policy in case P.J. Brown left. But you guys have said you would have drafted him anyway.
A: Absolutely. I think any time you're drafting 18th, you're just hopeful that there's a guy that can play in the NBA at that spot. It's not like the NFL. You can go four rounds deep and you can find a guy that can play in the NFL. Five rounds. At 18th in the NBA, that's a stretch. So when you have to guarantee three years of salary -- that's guaranteed money -- you don't want to guarantee it to a guy that's got a lot of ifs by the side of his name. All you're worried about is who can play in this league. And David West was the man on the board at that time, regardless of position.
Q: How important was re-signing P.J. Brown?
A: It was critical. (Pause.) It was ESSENTIAL. Thank goodness the owners wanted to win as much as we did. The easy thing to do would've been to pocket the $8 million this year and say, "We're going to be pretty good anyway." This ownership is dedicated to winning.
Q: Was George Lynch demanding a trade a scary moment for you?
A: I never worry about those things, because Bob Bass is more worried about it than I am. And Bob's in charge. Bob would not have extended George if he didn't think he was an asset to winning. And had he not extended him, I would have viewed it as he has plans for somebody else in here who's gonna help us win.
Q: That also gives you a pretty strong defensive unit.
A: I think that this is a very capable defensive team. You have guards out front who can initiate a defense with not only Baron Davis and Wesley but Darrell Armstrong, who has always been one of the greater pests in this league. A guy you didn't like playing against defensively. The wings have range, toughness, with Mashburn, Lynch, (Stacey) Augmon. Your big guys are established defenders in this league, Magloire and P.J. Brown, Tractor Traylor. It's our job to make sure that we are covering for each collectively when there are breakdowns individually, that we become cohesive.
I'd love to see this team's identity become more of a team that creates offense off its defense.
Q: Does it concern you that one of the things that seems to keep this team from going to the next level has been injuries?
A: Yes. On two fronts. One, I want to make sure that everything we do is geared toward playing in June -- that we have a team that's physically capable of doing that based on either what we are doing in the preseason or not doing. In other words, not over-working, understanding that there's only so much tread on a tire. On another front, we want to make sure that this team understands that playing with nicks is OK, as well -- that the commitment to each other to try to be on the floor all 82 games is physically possible and will serve this team well.
Q: It sounds like you're offering the players a deal: "I'll put you in a position to be healthy if you agree to play through minor injuries."
A: Not necessarily. I wasn't really proposing that as a deal. I just think that there's a dual responsibility. One, on our part to make sure that at all times we have playing in May and June as a top priority with every bit of planning we do, as far as practice plans, working with our strength coaches, minutes played during the season -- that's first and foremost. And from their own individual accountability and responsibility, I want them to feel that it's the right thing to do to be committed to try to be out there all 82 games for this team to get to where it needs to get.
Q: A lot of teams in the Eastern Conference improved during the offseason. Which was the one team in the Eastern Conference that improved significantly?
A: I think there were several teams that improved. I think the teams at the top improved: New Jersey and Detroit. I think Orlando, with the addition of Juwan Howard, gave themselves an inside target they lacked a year ago. Certainly Cleveland got better with the addition of LeBron James. They'll be better. I don't know how much better, but they'll be better.
Q: Everybody's making all these changes, and New Orleans' were not as dramatic.
A: Not on the starting group, there were no changes. Which a lot of other teams did, you're right. You saw that throughout the league. And I'm OK with that. I'm fine with that because I really, I've coached against this group, I respect this group, I respect their character, their commitment to winning, and the thing that this group's got going for them that you don't take too lightly that I certainly value is experience -- what they had was experience in winning.
Q: This is New Orleans' last year in the Eastern Conference before moving over to the West, which is going to be extremely difficult. Does that matter to you?
A: No. I tell you, I have not given it any thought whatsoever. I think those are management decisions to make next year. To me there's no year more important than this year, and I think that every coach should feel that way. The essence of what we do is win, and win now. Or attempt to win, or attempt to win now. We're measured by wins. So I give no consideration to the following year. But I'm sure that Bob Bass has, and will.
Q: If there was one thing you feel like you learned from your experience in Chicago?
A: Um, patience. I had none of that 'til I went there. Had to, as a part of survival.
Q: Did you learn patience after the experience itself, or you felt you developed that in the middle of it?
A: I was forced to have it while I was in the middle of it. You didn't and you'd have found the tallest building in Chicago.
Q: You spoke earlier about moving to New Orleans and a bigger media environment. After reading some of the articles by the Chicago Tribune sportswriter Sam Smith, it seems like he just did not like you.
A: Sam and I had a good relationship until about 10 days before I left. Yeah. Going into the last year. We had a great relationship for three years. No problems.
Q: What happened?
A: He lied in an article. Absolutely lied.
Q: Was this about your alleged lack of preparation?
A: No, this was about a week before we left. (Smith) blatantly lied about ... saying that I had an agenda to get our general manager (Jerry Krause) released. (Krause finally did resign this past April, citing health concerns.) And I called him a liar. So at that point he became an ex-wife. To his face, I called him that. In reality, the summer before, I had stayed because [Krause] was in trouble and the owner (Jerry Reinsdorf) told me that was the way he could save his job was if I stayed. So knowing that (Smith's accusation) was a complete lie and fabrication, I told him that. And that's where it started.
So anyhow, that's all I have to say about that. And it led to one lie after another. Which is the only time in my career I've ever called an editor, just to let him know that I'd had just about all that I could take.
Q: You felt compelled to say something?
A: You're damn right.
Q: If there's one thing that might have hurt you when you came here, it could be that more than one sportswriter has said that the only reason you got the Hornets job because you came on the cheap, that they got you for a cheaper deal than, say, Larry Brown, who signed a five-year deal with Detroit worth $25 million.
A: Well, I think there's a lot of guys that would've come to work here for what I was paid, so I'm not sure I was the only guy that could've gotten it. I'm sure there's a million guys that would've come.
But you know what? None of that matters. What matters is that the opportunity that we have here is the greatest opportunity that I've ever had in my career. And what we do with this opportunity is the only thing that matters. Nothing else does. Last time I checked, it was still a pretty good wage, still a little better than what I made at the University of New Orleans, which still might be up to this point the greatest job I ever had.
Q: But do you think that some of the circumstances that you're coming here under makes you feel like you've got something prove?
A: Not one thing. I never lost confidence as a coach. This is not about me. This is about our players, period. If we win, it's not going to be about me. It's going to be about our players. All we want to do is give this team the best opportunity it has to win a game every time it hits the floor, period. (Pause.) You know, if you don't allow the wins and the accolades to define you, then you're not going to allow the losing or the criticisms to diminish you.
Q: Having said that, which is more important considering you have a veteran team returning: earning the players' respect, or their earning your respect?
A: Hmmm, that's a good question. I think that, as far as the players go, it's not my goal to be regarded as a player's coach. That's not what we're trying to establish. Because I think that that's translated as I'm interested in being their friend. I don't think they have any interest in being my friend. I'm 49, old, fat -- why would they want to hang out with me?
Q: Not so fat anymore.
A: Gettin' there again, though. (Laughs.) But I think what's important is that we have the same common goal, and the will to get there together.