You might call Vinny Del Negro the accidental coach: He didn’t seek the profession, the profession sought him.
In 2008, the former N.C. State star was assistant general manager with the Phoenix Suns. He liked scouting talent and was on a track to someday run the Suns’ front office.
That was when the Suns asked him to interview for the team’s vacant coaching job, despite him never having coached at any level. He took the interview, and though the Suns picked Terry Porter, Del Negro was impressive enough that the Suns recommended him to the Chicago Bulls, who were also in a coaching search.
Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf hired him. As Del Negro has frequently said, “What am I supposed to do, say no?”
He lasted two seasons in Chicago, making the playoffs both seasons, but losing the job at the end of the 2009-10 season. Weeks later he resurfaced, getting the Los Angeles Clippers job. He is excelling, coaching the Clippers to a 40-18 mark entering Tuesday’s home game with the Charlotte Bobcats.
He is coaching a talented roster, which is a mixed blessing. It means keeping Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Chauncey Billups happy, without alienating a particularly deep roster full of players expecting minutes.
He has made it work the same way he lasted 14 seasons as a player, far longer than his talent would suggest: He’s a nice guy who doesn’t assume he always knows better.
“I think Vinny does a great job of allowing us to give our input,” said Paul, the former Wake Forest point guard. “If there’s a certain play we ran, and we saw a little wrinkle we could put in, he lets us do it. He keeps an open mind.”
Del Negro learned that from playing with future coaches Doc Rivers and Monty Williams as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. He does it because the players have good ideas and being listened to makes them more effective.
“The biggest part of my job is figuring out how to use players best. To use their suggestions is part of that process,” Del Negro said. “I want guys to feel confident and part of that is them speaking up and taking ownership.”