There is a reason most former players spend a decade or more as an assistant before becoming a head coach. To be effective, they have two cross two boundaries – one internal, one external. Internally, they have to divest themselves of their desire to play – not their desire to win and compete, just their desire to play. Coaches who were once players were almost always the type of players who gave 110% every night. This is definitely true of Hunter. Often that prevents players-turned-coaches from being able to understand, connect with, and get through to players who don’t give that type of effort. The problem that arises is that players who don’t always give maximum effort are the ones who need the most coaching. Former players turned coaches have to internally transition from being disappointed with those players to taking on the challenge of motivating them. Hunter’s comments in this piece by Kevin Zimmerman make it clear he is was still in the former state of mind.
The external boundary former players turned coaches have to cross is in the eyes of the players. Some guys in the NBA will respect whoever sits in the first seat on the bench because he’s their coach, and that’s how they roll. Others won’t respect a coach until he earns it. In the NBA, coaches earn respect with consistency, fairness, and above all, winning. Hunter, by all accounts, was consistent and fair. But the Suns were horrible this season. Hunter’s 12 wins didn’t gain him any respect.