Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing didn’t get a single interview for one of the NBA’s dozen head-coaching openings this offseason.
He believes he knows why.
“We get pigeon-holed,” said Ewing, who will serve as lead assistant to new Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford. “How many big men have gotten (head-coaching) jobs in the last 10 years? (Phil) Jackson and (Kevin) McHale. Not too many big men get that opportunity.”
Former point guards seem constantly in vogue as NBA head coaches. Most recently the Brooklyn Nets hired Jason Kidd as head coach, just days after he retired as a player.
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While Ewing doesn’t begrudge Kidd this chance, he does wonder why 10 years as an NBA assistant, atop a playing career as illustrious as his, doesn’t get him more job interviews. He interviewed for the Bobcats job a year ago, when it went to the since-fired Mike Dunlap.
“I guess they think because the guards run the team on offense, that they’re barking out orders,” then they must be natural coaches, Ewing said. “But they don’t see what the big men do. I was always a leader of my team, barking out defensive scheme, and some (offensive) plays, too. All I want is an opportunity to succeed or to fail.”
Ewing was named associate head coach in Charlotte. The other known assistant so far is Stephen Silas, a holdover from the previous two Bobcats staffs.
Clifford and Ewing worked together for most of the past decade, first for Jeff Van Gundy in Houston, then with Stan Van Gundy in Orlando. Clifford said he and Ewing know each other so well there’s always a candid exchange of ideas.
Ewing said that won’t change now that Clifford is his boss.
“It’s both ways – not one-sided,” he said. “He always tells me things I have to work on and me to him.”
While Ewing will work with the big men, he gets uneasy with the perception he’s a specialist:
“That’s the position I played, and I will be working with the big men. But I’m not just a big-man coach. I can help anyone,” he said.
This is the first time Ewing has lived in North Carolina. It could have happened back in the 1980s, when Tar Heels coach Dean Smith heavily recruited him. That’s when Ewing first met Michael Jordan, now Bobcats owner and a close friend.
That recruiting visit to Chapel Hill didn’t go so well because of something beyond Smith’s control.
“They put all the recruits in the Carolina Inn. And there was a big Ku Klux Klan rally” in the vicinity, Ewing said.
“That’s all they were talking about on the TV and on the radio. I’m watching the TV before bed and I’m hearing crickets. Every time I hear a noise, I’m jumping around.
“I thought, ‘I need to get back home.’ ”
He signed to play for John Thompson at Georgetown. Smith and Thompson were close friends, so Smith could live with that.
“He told me, ‘Look, Patrick, we want you to come here.’” Ewing recalled Smith saying, “But if you don’t come here, I think you should go to Georgetown.”