At the end of the day, the only thing a coach has is his knowledge. Take Rick Pitino, for example; despite all the yelling, college-style coaching and playing full-court press for 82 games, most of his players still speak highly of him. Why? They all say the same thing “coach would draw it up, and it would happen.” If you know what you are talking about, players will listen; if you don’t, you’ll get exposed real quick.
That knowledge can come from being a former player like Doc Rivers or working your way up from the video room like Erick Spoelstra. Former players usually fail because they don’t put in the coaching work; their career enables them to skip steps. But if they don’t and do things the right way, they have something no-one else has – first-hand insight. They understand the logic of top-level players and locker room dynamics like no-one else. That’s why Shaq worked best with Phil Jackson and Pat Riley.
“I’d look at coaches and say “How do you know?” The reason why I gave Phil Jackson respect is that before he came to me he won six rings and Pat Riley had five, but a lot of coaches, I used to question them like, ‘You want me to front Hakeem Olajuwon so they can throw it over my head and he can do a spin move? No, I’m not doing that shit. You want me to show on a pick and roll with a guard who can’t shoot, so he can kick it back to my guy, so he can dot my ‘i’ with these jumpers? I’m not doing that shit.‘”Shaquille O’Neal, via Esquire
It’s easier to get buy-in from your superstar if you have five-six rings on your resume. Sometimes you need a guy to front Hakeem or show on a pick. If you don’t have the rings or didn’t get complete buy-in from a superstar like Shaq, he ain’t doing it. For every Steve Kerr, there’s an Isiah Thomas. Being a great player isn’t enough, but it surely does help.