Brooklyn Nets Show Changing Coaches Midstream Is Risky but Can Work

Jed Hughes@JedhugheskfCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2013

PJ Carlesimo, Brooklyn Nets interim head coach has led the team to an 11-2 record since taking over the team
PJ Carlesimo, Brooklyn Nets interim head coach has led the team to an 11-2 record since taking over the teamAnthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Since moving to Brooklyn this season, the Nets have generated an enormous amount of excitement in part fueled by a hometown rivalry with the New York Knicks, the signing of Deron Williams to a $100 million contract extension, and by bringing in six-time All-Star Joe Johnson.

The Nets started the season with an impressive 11-4 record, earning Avery Johnson Eastern Conference Coach of the Month honors in November.  Then the team suddenly fizzled, losing 10 of their last 13 games under Johnson. 

He was quickly replaced by PJ Carlesimo, who started the season as an assistant.  Since Carlesimo took over as head coach, the team has played well; going 10-2 in their first dozen games, and are legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division.

Making a coaching change midseason is often viewed as an act of desperation during a hopelessly lost season.  Often it takes a significant period of time to achieve success.  However, sometimes a midyear coaching change can be the right move -- and sometimes results in championships.

Pat Riley twice took over mid-season and led his teams to titles.  Riley brought the LA Lakers to an NBA crown after replacing Paul Westhead during the 1981-82 season.  He then won three more championships in Los Angeles.  Riley accomplished the same feat two decades later with the Miami Heat by replacing Stan Van Gundy after 21 games and winning a championship in 2005-06.

In baseball, Davey Johnson took over as manager of the Washington Nationals in 2012 and guided them to the playoffs for the first time.  Bob Lemon famously replaced Billy Martin, calmed the dysfunctional Yankee clubhouse, and guided New York to a World Series victory in 1978.  Jack McKeon did the same after taking over the 16-22 Florida Marlins from Jeff Torborg in 2003.

In the NHL, the New Jersey Devils fired Rob Ftorek, hired Larry Robinson, and won the Stanley Cup in 2000.  More recently, the Penguins Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien and guided Pittsburgh to a championship in 2009.

Thus, a mid-year shakeup can provide immediate results -- especially for underachieving teams stocked with talent.  However, changing captains midstream is not easy.  Often a team replaces its coach when it is already too late to climb out of the hole it has dug.

Building a championship team involves the investment of time and resources to assemble talent, build team chemistry, instill a sense of purpose, and develop a strategy to get to the top.  Doing that in the middle of a losing season is a challenging -- but not impossible -- task.


Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Among his high profile placements are Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy, New York Jets President Neil Glat, and Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. Earlier in his career, Jed coached for two decades in professional and intercollegiate football where he served under five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler (Michigan), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings), John Ralston (Stanford) and Terry Donahue (UCLA). Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.