Padecky: McMillan thinks Kerr will be fine coaching

Steve Kerr, third from left, watches the final moments of Arizona’s victory against Washington State. SRJC coach Craig McMillan is second from right. (Photo by Tuscon Citizen, 1988)

Steve Kerr, third from left, watches the final moments of Arizona’s victory against Washington State. SRJC coach Craig McMillan is second from right.
(Photo by Tuscon Citizen, 1988)

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In sports, if predictions mean anything, Buster Douglas doesn’t beat Mike Tyson, the Americans don’t beat the Russians in Olympic hockey and somewhere today Steve Kerr is a college academic, just as his dad was.

“When I played with him at the University of Arizona,” said Craig McMillan, coach of SRJC’s state championship basketball team, “no one would have predicted he would have a 15-year NBA career. We figured Steve might get two, three years in the league as a 12th man.”

Ah, but we watch sports for the surprises we never see coming and we never saw this coming: Kerr has five NBA championship rings. He has the NBA record for career 3-point field goal percentage, 45.4. A TNT color analyst for nine years, Kerr was an NBA general manager for four years. And now for the biggest surprise of them all: Kerr is the fourth-highest paid coach in the NBA — and he hasn’t coached a single game.

So it’s a fool’s errand to make assumptions about what Kerr can or cannot do. For example, Kerr has an advantage in landing the Warriors job as a newbie, something no one has discussed, yet appears quite logical.

“The Warriors are going to be patient with Steve,” said McMillan, who played three years with Kerr at Arizona. “They have to be. If they are impatient then they will be seen as quick to judge. That won’t look good, after they let Mark Jackson go (after Golden State won 51 games).”

The Warriors will be seen as a raging sea of unreasonable expectations if owner Joe Lacob is perceived to have the patience of a three-year old. He’ll be the George Steinbrenner of the NBA, not the most attractive boss. The whispers already have started: How will the ultra-demanding Lacob handle his rookie coach in the midst of a five-game losing streak?

Smiling, affable, polite, Kerr might appear as a lamb ready to be led to the Lacob slaughter. Pause for a moment on that assumption, McMillan cautions.

“I keep hearing everyone saying Steve is too nice of a guy to be a coach,” McMillan said. “Those people obviously don’t know Steve Kerr. He’s ultra-competitive. Yes, he is a nice guy. He can get along with all types of people. But if a player doesn’t do what Steve wants him to do, he’s not going to be that nice of a guy.”

Just ask Michael Jordan. In 1995 when they were both with the Chicago Bulls, Kerr got into a shoving match in practice with The World’s Greatest Player. Punches were thrown. Kerr got the worst of it, but a template had been established. Kerr won the respect of Jordan, Phil Jackson and the rest of the Bulls. The word spread through the NBA. Steve Kerr ain’t no one’s chump.

“I don’t think there’s any player who got as much out of less than Steve,” McMillan said. “He knew he wasn’t going to out-athletic someone. He had to figure out a way to get it done.”

It may seem like a cliché, but it is true nonetheless: Hall of Fame players in any sport rarely make good coaches. The game comes too easy for them. I see the ball and I hit the ball, as Willie Mays once described his thought process. The overachievers, the players who have to think things through, have the patience to instruct, to guide, to develop.

“(Arizona) Coach (Lute) Olson would get on Steve because Steve would go the entire half without shooting even once,” McMillan said. The situation didn’t demand it. The team came first. Kerr was patient. He was studying the game, finding its rhythm. In basketball, such instincts are invaluable since they form strategy.

“It’s having a feel for the game,” said McMillan, who knows a thing or two about that. “Steve has a great feel for the game.”

The way McMillan sees it, a rookie coach in the NBA is preferable to being a rookie coach in NCAA Division I.

“In Division I, there is so much emphasis on recruiting,” said McMillan who sees Kerr about two times every year, usually at Arizona functions in Tucson. “In the NBA, the level of assistants is deep. You have someone in charge of scouting, someone in charge of defense and so forth. You have so much help.”

If McMillan were asked to give Kerr one piece of advice, it would be to trust himself and what he learned to land this plum job.

“Don’t listen too much to advice,” McMillan said. “Go with your instincts. Don’t second guess your own judgment.”

There’s a reason a guy who only started 30 games in his 910-game NBA career got this assignment. Steve Kerr paid attention. He found out how to get along. He listened to two of the best coaches whoever held a clipboard, Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson. He saw how the mighty, Michael Jordan, could be helped by the not-so mighty, Kerr.

How will all that translate? That’s the interesting part. No one knows. The sense is this: Steve Kerr provides the ideal template for any rookie coach. Winning dots his entire resume. He’s smart. He gets along with people. He knows the game. While other rookie coaches have succeeded — the recently departed Mark Jackson comes to mind — Kerr has the opportunity to be the gold standard, the coach by which all other rookies will be compared.

“Steve is as qualified as anyone who has never coached before,” McMillan said. “I think he will be successful. How successful? It depends if the Warriors can stay healthy. If they do, they will be very good.”

If Stephen Curry grabs his knee while falling to floor, it won’t matter if Kerr channels his Inner Popovich. He’ll have to teach Joe Lacob patience, a type of humility he had to learn a long time ago. Will Lacob want to learn that from his rookie coach? Well now, THAT indeed is the question of the day, isn’t it.

To contact Bob Padecky, email him at bobpadecky@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Retired columnist Bob Padecky will write a weekly local sports column exclusively for The Press Democrat.

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