My Take on Paul Westphal

(You must read ClipperSteve's analysis of Paul Westphal's coaching history. Especially if your name is Geoff, Joe or Gavin. -- TZ)

Not that you asked, but I thought I'd give StR my take on Paul Westphal in the wake of his interview for the Kings head coaching job today. 

Why does Clipper Steve have an opinion about Paul Westphal?  Well,
(a) I have an opinion on pretty much everything;
(b) I lived in Phoenix in the late 80s and was a fan of the Tom Chambers/Kevin Johnson Suns (notice I didn't say the Charles Barkley Suns);
(c) I went to Pepperdine, the scene of Westphal's most recent head coaching tenure.

Westphal put up some impressive win totals in Phoenix, there's no denying that.  His first season with the Suns, they won 62 games and went to the NBA Finals losing to Jordan's Bulls in 6.  His next two seasons they won 56 and 59 games, being eliminated each year in the Conference Semis in 7 games by the Rockets.  IIRC, his 62 wins is still an NBA record for a rookie head coach.

But Cotton Fitzsimmons put that team together and handed it to Westphal with a bow on top.  More importantly, I would call it Barkley's team long before I would call it Westphal's team.  It was a supremely talented bunch, led by Barkley and Johnson, along with Dan Majerle and a host of other very good players.  And that is what I remember about that team - how talented they were.  I never came away from any of those games thinking "Wow, that was a really well-coached game."  Quite the opposite in fact - it was certainly my impression that Rudy Tomjanovich outcoached him pretty badly in the playoff losses to the Rockets.  Still, it's quite unscientific - I don't have more than a feeling to share with you on those Suns teams, and the win totals are in and of themselves impressive.  But my general impression at that time was that he was rolling the ball out for those guys, and they managed to win a bunch of games without a lot of interference from the coach.  (Getting along with Charles Barkley was probably the number one job qualification after all.)


He had less success in Seattle, and I don't have much to share there, it not being a team I paid a lot of attention to.  Obviously the results were significantly worse - he took a 61 win team and missed the playoffs.  Mr. Ziller has already shared some insights from Kevin Pelton on those days.  We seem to be in agreement at least that he's not really a great head coaching candidate.

What likely gets less scrutiny is his time in Malibu coaching the Waves.  In his first season, the team went 22-9, beat UCLA and USC (needless to say a first for the program), tied Gonzaga for the WCC regular season title and received an at large berth to the NCAA tournament.  (A Sacramento tie-in, the first round was played at Arco, where the Waves lost to a very good Wake Forest team led by Josh Howard and Darius Songaila - the only game I've ever watched in your lovely barn arena.)

The conventional wisdom concerning Westphal after his year one success was that he was bringing some pro savvy to the college game, utilizing isolations and 2-for-1 end of half situations to gain an advantage.  But the simple fact is that he had brought in some very good JC transfers who thrived in isolation basketball.  Unfortunately, none of the could stay eligible.  Over the next several seasons, Westphal proceeded to run the program into the ground.  His five year win total at Pepperdine was 22, 15, 15, 17 and 7.  This, playing in the decided not-so-tough WCC. 

By the end of his stay in Malibu, his inability to recruit had taken it's toll (of course, recruiting is not really an issue in the NBA).  It was the penultimate season that is the most telling.  In 04-05, the Pepperdine team featured Yakhouba Diawara (of the Nuggets and Heat) and Alex Acker (of the Pistons and Clippers) - and neither of them was the team's leading scorer, an honor belonging to Glen McGowan, who averaged almost 17 points per game this season for Sioux Falls in the D-League.  That's three pro-caliber players in the West Coast Conference - and they went 6-8 in league.  The team was a complete mess.  If they were ever told what to do on defense, it didn't show.  As for the offense, it consisted of clear out for McGowan (or Acker, or Diawara).  It was the worst-coached team I've ever seen.

So I guess I'm saying, he's at least as good as Mike Dunleavy Sr.  Good luck on your coaching search.  Wish I had one of those.

(This is a FanPost from a member of the Sactown Royalty community. The views expressed come from the member, and not Sactown Royalty staff.)