More coaching goes on in the first 10 minutes of an NBA game than in an entire college season.
Albeck uttered those words while coaching at Bradley—a year after leaving the Chicago Bulls in 1986—and now he feels, well, a bit sheepish about them. Not sheepish enough, however, to retract them. "There's one thing tougher about college," says Albeck, who coached eight years in the pros and 18 at four colleges before taking over at Bradley in 1986. "The demands on your time—community, alumni, recruiting, taping your TV shows. It's tough."
Besides that, Stan? He laughs and says, albeit reluctantly, "Well, no, as far as coaching the game goes—sorry—it's much tougher in the pros." He and former Atlanta Hawk coach Mike Fratello, who's now an NBC commentator, once figured out that because the pro game is eight minutes longer than the college game (48 to 40), an NBA coach makes at least 90 decisions a game, compared with 60 for a college coach.
Chuck Daly, whose Detroit Pistons have won the last two NBA championships, is, like Albeck, a product of the college system, having spent seven years as an assistant at Duke, followed by nine as head coach at Boston College and Penn. But last summer, when the Boston Celtics were considering hiring Duke's Mike Krzyzewski as their coach, Daly said, "Mike Abdenour knows more about the pro game than any college coach right now." Abdenour is the Piston trainer. Boston ended up promoting assistant coach Chris Ford.
Nobody, but nobody, is more of a "college guy" than Rick Pitino, who in the middle of a successful two-year tenure as coach of the New York Knicks (1987-89) admitted that he would be more comfortable back on a campus. Yet even Pitino, who had led Providence to the Final Four before taking the Knick job and is now coaching at Kentucky, believes the pro game is tougher to coach. "From the number of decisions a coach has to make, using the clock as a weapon, out-of-bounds plays, substitution patterns, everything," says Pitino, "much more coaching goes on in the pro game."
Adds Jack Ramsay, who coached in college for 11 seasons and in the NBA for 21 before he resigned from the Indiana Pacers in 1988, "I've seen guys who were head college coaches come into the NBA as assistants, and they are literally in a state of shock for two months. Their mouths are hanging open. They cannot believe the level of play, and they cannot believe the level of coaching required."
"The 24-second clock is the main thing that makes bench coaching much more difficult in the NBA," says San Antonio's Larry Brown, a former head coach at UCLA and at Kansas, where his team won the NCAA championship in 1988. "In the pros, there are so many changes of possession and so many decisions, it's impossible to plan for everything."
So let us put to rest two major myths of basketball: that NBA men are the no-brainers of the coaching fraternity, and that college basketball coaches are all-knowing. "Whenever you're dealing at the highest level of anything, it's more difficult," says Utah Jazz president Frank Layden, who coached in college ( Niagara, from 1968 to 76) and in the NBA (the Jazz, from 1981 to '88). "Think it's not more difficult to direct Brando in a film than Joe Schmo? The stakes get higher, the job gets tougher."
Now, let's not go overboard. As the Philadelphia 76ers' Jimmy Lynam, another former college coach, says, "Coaching anywhere isn't exactly brain surgery." Daly wants to emphasize that point, too. He took heat from friends in the college game for the Abdenour comment—at a celebrity golf tournament last summer, North Carolina's Dean Smith, for whom Daly has great respect, told him, "Kinda tough on us, weren't you, Chuck?"—and Daly says he didn't mean to imply that NBA coaches are superior intellectually.
"It's just that the two games are so different," says Daly. "My point was that you just don't walk into the NBA and become a good coach. The rules, the mentality, the timeouts, the matchups, everything is different. And here's the most important thing: The NBA coach must realize that the players teach him. That's not the way it is in college."