Frank Vogel did not camp out on Rick Pitino’s lawn in order to get a job at Kentucky.
Everything else? Well, yeah, Vogel did that stuff.
Which is why, though Vogel bleeds Pacers (and Kentucky) blue, the Indiana coach plans to wear a red tie tonight when his team faces Cleveland at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It’s a tribute to the man who helped launch his coaching career, the man who guided Louisville to the national championship Monday night in Atlanta and will enter the Naismith Hall of Fame in September.
“Even though I’m a big blue guy,” Vogel said, “I’m a Rick Pitino guy first.”
VOGEL TOOK PITINO’S “OFFER” LITERALLY
A hoops junkie from an early age, Vogel met Pitino at a Five-Star basketball camp in the offseason. The two had a brief conversation in which the veteran coach gave the youngster the standard brushoff line: “Give me a call if there’s anything I can do for you.”
Vogel took it literally, packed his bags, drove to Lexington and effectively camped out in the gym.
Not only did Vogel have no promise of a job, he had been told in no uncertain terms there was no prospect of becoming as much as a student manager. Vogel was told the Wildcats preferred in-state applicants but he could always come down to the gym and watch practice.
“I was going to take Rick on his word,” Vogel said. “Worst-case scenario, I’ll be down there and watch him work every day or watch the games and read the papers every day. The internet wasn’t invented back then. So I just wanted to be around it, worst-case scenario.
“And best-case scenario, I thought I could find a way to show them not that they needed to give me an opportunity but that I could help them. My whole approach with them wasn’t asking for something but showing that I can give them something. And I believed that I could.”
After a couple of weeks of constant presence and no movement on the job front, Vogel turned to Pitino’s top assistant. Jim O’Brien decided he could use some help and got Pitino’s approval for a two-week trial period for Vogel.
“That’s all I needed,” Vogel said.
After finishing out his senior season as a student manager, Vogel became Kentucky’s video coordinator. When Pitino left to become head coach of the Celtics, he took Vogel along in that same role. When O’Brien succeeded Pitino in Boston, he made Vogel an assistant.
He followed O’Brien to Philadelphia in 2004 and rejoined him with the Pacers in 2007. Vogel succeeded O’Brien midway through the 2010-11 season and has produced a 110-71 record, three consecutive playoff berths and the first Central Division title in nine years.
PACERS FEEL PITINO’S INFLUENCE
Pitino’s influence is reflected in Vogel’s confidence-building approach with players, his work ethic and his commitment to thorough preparation.
“Showing a player you believe in him can help him overachieve for his talent level,” Vogel said. “Not only the work ethic, but how to prepare, how to go about coaching a team day to day and the grind, studying your opponents inside and out, studying your opponents inside and out, how to run practices, just all those things. When you’re a young, aspiring coach, to be exposed to that level of greatness it’s meant everything to me, really.
“Everybody talks about Rick as a speaker and a motivational guru, so to speak. Guys like Rick, like Phil Jackson, they’re also great Xs and Os coaches, they’re great preparation coaches and this team is very well prepared and has a good system in place. I think with young players like Tyler Hansbrough, Roy Hibbert, Paul George, Lance Stephenson that are still finding their way, just having that confidence-boosting approach that Rick brings to the table every year at Louisville I think has helped a lot of our young players.”
This is not a one-way relationship. When Pitino was in Indianapolis for the Midwest Regional semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium in late March, he spoke fondly of Vogel.
“I follow every (Pacers) game, every box score,” Pitino said. “I’ve had over 25 assistants go on to coach in college and professionals and they’re great friends of mine.
“But Frank’s a special case.”
No question about that. Vogel was willing to put everything else aside in order to chase a dream. Through sheer, relentless, force of will, he made it reality.