By Ollie Nash
Photo: Illawarra Mercury
The last time we saw Brian Goorjian in the NBL he was celebrating the 2008-09 championship as head coach of the South Dragons. He’s always carried a winning reputation, a key reason he is one of the most respected coaches in NBL history.
So, when the perennial strugglers of the NBL, the Illawarra Hawks, now known simply as ‘The Hawks’ sign the six-time champion and six-time Coach of the Year award winner, it looks like the pick-up of the decade.
Experienced and well respected in Australia and around the globe, it is a good signing, no doubt. You’re getting a guy that has been there and done that regularly for 22 seasons in the NBL, only missing the finals twice and winning 70 percent of his 735 games. But it’s for reasons beyond his winning resume that is why the Hawks have made the right decision, even if it is at the expense of league favourite Matt Flinn.
To put it simply, the Hawks new owner Dorry Kordahi, who has bought the team alongside Bryan Colangelo and Michael Proctor, and their new head coach are friends, they like each other and that’s a really important thing in any business, not just sports. It’s not always the case though and it can lead to disfunction. What the Hawks have created is stability, which once again, is really important in sports.
Let’s look at the New York Knicks and their owner James Dolan as a case study for what the Hawks are avoiding by signing Goorjian. 65-year-old Dolan took over the franchise in 1999, the year they made their last NBA Finals appearance. Since then, he has gone through 10 head coaches, not including the three interim coaches from that 20 year stretch. They haven’t made the Finals in that stretch. Compare that to some stable franchises from 1999 to now. San Antonio Spurs, one coach, five championships. Dallas Mavericks, three coaches, two Finals appearances and one championship. Miami Heat, four coaches, three titles. Boston Celtics, five coaches, two Finals appearances, one title. Even Utah, who have never won a title have only gone through three coaches since 1999 and have been perennial playoff contenders.
The Hawks have been able to establish a strong partnership that will lead their franchise. What this means is that life for all involved will be easier than it has been for Dolan and any coach he has hired. Goorjian gets to go about his business freely knowing he has the trust of his owner. Not many coaches get that luxury. Kordahi can focus on the Hawks brand, their community work and their overall standing in the league knowing his head coach has got his end of the bargain sorted. Decisions around recruiting and imports are easier to make because the owner and his coach are on the same wavelength.
The stability at the top of the organisation has a flow on affect. Players, assistant coaches all the way down to the equipment manager walk into work with confidence in themselves and the franchise.
Now this only takes you so far. The Hawks are still a team that finished last in the 2019-20 season with a 5-23 record. The real work begins there, attracting the right imports and continuing to develop the young players that competed so well this past season. They have proven before that a quick turnaround is possible though. They finished second last in 2012 then made the finals in 2013. They finished last in 2015 and were back in the finals in 2016. The Goorjian/Kordahi relationship makes this possible again. Recruits and imports like stability and no drama. The pair provide that, opening the door to top shelf recruits that the Hawks might otherwise have missed out on given their poor records the last three years.
Two star recruits are all it takes in the NBL, build a strong core around them with the young talent of the Hawks and they’re a finals chance. Their youth was the shining light for their disappointing 2019-20 season, so coupling them with some fresh, experienced guys, an elite coach and new owners with a new vision and the Hawks don’t seem too far away from another finals birth.
Cover Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images