Let’s say you’re an 18-year NBA veteran, you made around $84 million from playing, but now you’re out of the game—one year removed from retirement. There might not be a more humbling feeling than being second in command to a high school coach in a high school gym for a basketball game.
That’s what Jerry Stackhouse was up to the weekend of April 16 at the 62nd annual Portsmouth Invitational inside Churchland High School. Why? Because he wants to coach in the NBA.
In addition to the tournament hosting Tier-B college players, the event showcased the NBA’s Assistant Coaches Program (ACP), which supports retired players who have an interest in coaching by providing training and exposure opportunities. Along with Stackhouse, ex-players Ronald Allen, Michael Bradley, Kiwane Garris, Jaren Jackson, Bo Kimble, Casey Shaw and Vladimir Stepania participated in the program.
“It was great to just be in an environment with basketball people—former coaches, GMs, scouts—and have them observe you in a capacity other than just as a player,” Stackhouse said. “It definitely helps to show them that you’re willing to work for an opportunity at the entry level.”
The ACP is a two-phase program, with the next stop being the D-League’s National Tryout in June. On the court, the prospective candidates receive instruction on coaching skills, philosophy and game management by former NBA sideline bosses, such as Paul Silas, who came to speak at Portsmouth. Then they’re given the chance to draw up plays, develop and lead practices, and interact with potential NBA players.
Since the program began in 1988, nearly 200 former players have participated—on average they’re three to eight years removed from playing in the NBA—and nearly 50 percent of them have found positions in the NBA, D-League or college. Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn is the most recent participant to land a head job. Stackhouse, who coaches his own nationally-ranked AAU team based in Atlanta, is determined to join an NBA bench by next season, and is scheduled to meet with New York Knicks president Phil Jackson the week of May 19 to explore assistant coaching and player-personnel jobs.
“I plan to reach out to my former teams and coaches to see if there are openings—not just for staff positions, but maybe just to come in and help with draft workouts, summer league, etc.,” said Stackhouse, who last played for the Brooklyn Nets in 2012-13. “I feel what makes me somewhat unique is that I can still play and can be someone that can coach and teach by example, as opposed to just dictating a message. I’m hoping that will give me added value in my quest to break into the coaching ranks.”
Bleacher Report asked former NBA coaches Silas, Mike Fratello and Bill Cartwright, as well as former player and the NBA’s vice president of player development Rory Sparrow, if there’s a blueprint for ex-players to become coaches:
Silas: “I explained to them that former coaches that you know and you have a relationship with, you’ve got to talk to these guys and see what they would like for you to do. If you can get a job, it’s normally with somebody that you knew.”
Fratello: “[Utilize] the personal relationships that the individual may have developed with the general manager, with the president, with the owner of the team—they’re wiling to take a shot at him.”
Cartwight: “The biggest advantage is their own experience from their years playing and their access to coaching. Most coaches coach how they were coached. Coaches have different inputs on how they want to play, how they want to guard, how they want to handle players. A great example of that is Kevin Ollie. Kevin played for 12 teams in 13 years, so you’re going to have access to a lot of coaching. That’s an advantage.”
Sparrow: “You have to have good relationships with general managers and coaches that allow you to parlay that relationship into a job. Once you get a job, you have to really work hard and kind of follow the notion that players, once they get to that level, don’t want to put the time in because they feel like they know it all. So really you have to humble yourself to learn a whole new craft, spend time watching video and learning philosophies and developing your philosophy.”