No sooner had Frank graduated from Indiana with a degree in education than Knight was recommending that Marquette coach Kevin O'Neill hire him as a video coordinator. "The only thing I'll guarantee is that the guy will work hard," O'Neill recalls Knight telling him. Within two years Frank had become one of O'Neill's assistants, and the two moved on to Tennessee in 1994. You could not have picked two men less likely to become NBA head coaches—O'Neill was a maniacal screamer in college—yet today O'Neill is the rookie coach of the Toronto Raptors and may very well oppose his former assistant in the first round of the playoffs. By then O'Neill believes that Frank will have the interim tag removed from his title. "I think Lawrence will be the head coach of the Nets for a very long time," O'Neill says. "He seems to have the respect of the best players on that team, and that gives him a chance to win in this league."
At the same time O'Neill loves to kid Frank about his reputation as a workaholic. " Lawrence was a little bit of a know-it-all who needed to be humbled once in a while, because he always had a scam going," O'Neill says. "He would always ask the secretary what time I'd be coming in the next day, so he could come in 15 minutes earlier and say he'd been working all night." One morning O'Neill arrived at 5:30 a.m.—90 minutes ahead of his declared schedule—and waited for Frank to arrive at 6:45. "I sneaked out and came back in as if I were just showing up for work and went straight into his office and said, 'Man, you must live here,' " O'Neill recalls. " Lawrence says, 'I've been here breaking tape down all night.' I said, 'Oh yeah? Get the hell out of here.' With most people you punish them by making them come to the office; the only way to punish Lawrence was to not let him come to the office for two weeks."
After five years of working for O'Neill without a day off—"Now that one is true," O'Neill admits—Frank was burned out. Instead of following O'Neill to Northwestern in 1996, he decided to go into commercial real estate with his brother Steven in New Jersey. It was a bad fit. "To borrow a Kevinism, I felt like I was in a sword fight with a spoon," says Frank, who quit the real estate gig after six weeks. His love for basketball revived, he landed a job as an assistant for Vancouver Grizzlies coach Brian Hill in 1997. When the Grizzlies' staff was fired three years later, Frank returned to Jersey as an assistant to Scott after submitting 500 pages of ideas on everything from end-of-game situations to individual player instruction and off-season workout programs. When Frank was elevated to head coach, he demonstrated both his loyalty and his self-assuredness by hiring Hill, a highly regarded veteran who hopes to become a head coach again.
Ever efficient in his clock management, Frank took advantage of the 1998-99 lockout to propose to Susan Delaney. A classmate at Teaneck High, Susan can picture Lawrence leaping off the bench to notify his coach of a third foul, but it wasn't until their 10th high school reunion that the two began dating. They have two daughters, 254-year-old Dillon Grace, who has learned to dance with her hands in the air when Daddy tells her to do the "fire feet" drill he demands of his players, and nine-month-old Caitlin. "There is no better thing than to be with somebody who loves what he's doing," says Susan, shrugging off her husband's long hours. " Lawrence will come home upset about losses, but he is never miserable."
On the night of his first home game in charge, on Feb. 4 against the Miami Heat, Frank strode onto the court to the applause of some 20 friends and family members. Gordon Frank admits he could not believe that his youngest son was waving to him as the coach of the reigning Eastern Conference champions. "What Lawrence has done proves that you don't have to grow up as the leader of the pack," says Gordon. "You just have to understand what is needed to do the job."
The test for Frank will come when the Nets suffer an extended losing streak. Will the players accept his constructive criticism when things are going badly? Tirelessly outgoing, he will always be the butt of good-natured jokes as the little kid who refuses to take no for an answer. It happened last Friday, when the Nets did not break their huddle promptly at the end of a second-quarter timeout. "That's enough, Lawrence!" referee Joey Crawford yelled with a smirk, as if it were getting dark and Lawrence needed to get home for dinner. But Frank didn't hear Crawford. He was busy talking to his players.