Patrick Ewing’s coaching career is quickly approaching the duration of his on-court career as the Jamaica native heads into another offseason waiting for that elusive phone call about becoming a head coach. It would see the culmination of several years’ hard work.
After a Hall of Fame-worthy career with the New York Knicks, picking up nearly every accolade aside from an NBA championship, Ewing has been patient in finding his first head coaching gig. He has spent time on the sidelines as an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards(2002-2003), Houston Rockets(2003-2006), and Orlando Magic (2007-2012).
In recent years, the former 11-time NBA All-Star has been the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets associate head coach, slowly but surely increasing the value of his job title.
"All I can do is continue to coach, continue to work, be good at my craft, and hopefully, one day, that will help me when and if I get that opportunity," Ewing told USA Today a few seasons ago.
It seemed especially certain that Ewing would get that opportunity this offseason. Several teams, including the Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic, and others had head coaching vacancies. The Knicks, in particular, stood out as Ewing is one of the top players in team history.
"You know, this is a great fit for me," Ewing said to ESPN before the Hornets' 111-97 victory over the Knicks early last month in reference to coaching the team. "I have my number up there [in the Garden rafters]. I still live in the area. If I get an opportunity for an interview, I'd be happy."
After Derek Fisher was fired last year, Kurt Rambis was the interim coach and seen as the team’s future coach. However, earlier this week, Jeff Hornacek was revealed as the team’s choice for the position. While no contract is in place, Hornacek is expected to take over the reigns in New York.
Frank Vogel, who was fired by the Pacers, also found a gig - the head coach of the Magic. Ewing was a part of the coaching staff that led Orlando to the NBA Finals in 2009 and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. He was also behind some successful Rockets teams of the mid-2000s.
He did get the experience of being a head coach – if just for one game. When the Bobcats’ Steve Clifford was admitted to a local hospital in early November of 2013, Ewing was slotted as the head coach. But during that time, the 53-year-old has watched guys like Fisher and Jason Kidd for all intents and purposes slip out of their uniforms and into suits to coach teams right after their retirement.
There’s some belief that Ewing’s height and reputation as a center is holding him back. When the Sacramento Kings had a coaching vacancy earlier this year, Ewing was reportedly in the mix. Yet, ESPN Insider Brian Windhorst spoke on ESPN’s Mike & Mike a few weeks ago about some doubts he’s heard regarding Ewing as a head coach (via Washington Post).
“The people I’ve talked to aren’t sure that he completely is the head coaching material that people are looking for,” Windhorst said. “Other people who’ve worked with Patrick say he should’ve been a head coach years ago.”
Ewing reportedly never made it past the preliminary stages for the Detroit Pistons' vacancy in 2012 and the Bobcats' vacancy in the same year.
Windhorst added that there’s a “stigma out there that he is not quite the greatest fit for a head coaching job.” Despite the interest, he was reportedly never even in the top five candidates for the role.
As John Thompson Jr., Ewing’s former college coach said to the Washington Post last year, “you seldom hear intelligence associated with height in the NBA.” Ewing hasn’t even tried to downplay that, telling Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears in 2014 that “there probably is a big man perception. They think that all guards are the best thing. It’s a guard-oriented league right now, but it is what it is.”
Moving forward, Ewing’s chances at a head coaching gig should remain about the same. He’s always mentioned as a possible fit whenever a vacancy opens up. Until then, he’s just enjoying the job of coaching itself.
"I enjoy coaching,” Ewing said. ‘You know, I feel blessed that something I enjoy doing keeps me involved in the game on a day-to-day basis."