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Time for Charlotte Bobcats to stop renting coaches

By Tom Sorensen
tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com
Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

When an NBA or NFL team hires a coach, it often recommends a realtor. The Charlotte Bobcats recommend an apartment complex.

Alas, a one-year lease usually is required. Mike Dunlap, whom the Bobcats fired as head coach Tuesday, lasted 10 months.

The Bobcats played their first game in 2004 and are about to hire their sixth head coach.

The Carolina Panthers, who played their first game in 1995, have had four.

Dunlap was never more than a temp. He was never going to coach the team after next season. His role was to develop Charlotte’s young talent and step aside.

The Bobcats probably will have three first-round draft choices in 2014, a draft as deep as 2013’s is shallow. That’s when they have to become serious.

The mission is clear. Hire a coach who (a) will be credible with veterans, (b) can parlay young talent into a winning program and (c) is comfortable buying a house.

Unfortunately, John Calipari is taken.

Dunlap did his best coaching before the 2012-13 season began, offering players his time and expertise.

But he was not popular with veterans. Why does this matter? This matters because Charlotte has the money to court free agents. Free agents talk to players they know. They ask: Do we want to play for your coach? You do not, veterans will tell them.

The free agents will ask a second question: Do we want to play for your organization?

In nine seasons the Bobcats have had five head coaches. Nine seasons, five head coaches sounds like a taunt you’d hear at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Charlotte coaches last an average of 1.8 seasons. The Bobcats don't have relationships with their head coaches. They have 1.8-year stands.

The most effective of them was the first, Bernie Bickerstaff. His teams had little talent but consistently worked hard. As a result, he has the longest tenure of any coach in franchise history. He lasted three seasons. Bickerstaff is to Charlotte what Red Auerbach is to the Boston Celtics.

Sam Vincent was next. He was a strange choice, obscure, an experiment. The experiment blew up. He lasted 11 months.

Larry Brown replaced Vincent in 2008-09. Brown offered instant credibility and in his second season led the Bobcats to their only playoff appearance. In 2010-11, however, Brown publicly berated, criticized and maligned his players. He talked his way out of a job and was fired in December 2010.

Paul Silas came in, closer-like, and rescued the team that season but couldn’t save them in 2011-12.

Dunlap, who was more obscure than Vincent, replaced Silas.

No more experiments, please. Dunlap didn’t know the NBA and proved it. He talked to his players so incessantly during games that opponents would ask the Bobcats what he was doing. A Bobcat would commit an error and be dropped from the rotation, never to be seen again. He was, some thought, considerably less than humble for a rookie NBA head coach.

He was a terrible hire. But that's not his fault. That's his employer's. How could the Bobcats not know what they were getting?

An organization can’t perpetually start over. The best offer continuity.

Why should you, coveted free agent, play for us? Because we have a philosophy in which we believe, because we make sound decisions, because we commit to our people, because we know what we’re doing.

Charlotte’s philosophy: Our coaches don't have to make mortgage payments.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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