Why the Rockets next head coach needs to bring something extra

A fiery head coach seems like the answer. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

From the moment the Houston Rockets hired Stephen Silas as their head coach on Oct. 28, 2020 he was dead man prowling the sidelines. The poor guy never had a prayer. A petulant superstar, dwindling crowds, sourpuss role players, overwhelmed rookies and losing. Lots and lots of losing.

Three disheartening years later, saddled with a career won-loss record for the history books, 59-177, Silas has been told that his services are no longer needed. Technically, the Rockets won’t be picking up the fourth-year option on Silas’ contract, but however you frame it, whatever words you want to use, Silas is out as Rockets coach.

And now the Rockets face the most important decision of Tilman Fertitta’s time as owner and Rafael Stone’s tenure as general manager.

Who will be the Houston Rockets’ next coach?

Looking back, the hiring of Silas was a risky reach that didn’t succeed. Silas had been an NBA assistant coach for 20 years without a head coaching offer from anywhere else. Maybe Houston teams need to stop hiring decades-long career assistants as their top man. At least Silas made three years with the Rockets. David Culley lasted barely one season with the Texans.

Maybe it’s time to put some judgment on the executives who hire these “inexperienced veterans” as head coaches. What did they see that no one else saw for 20-plus years?

The Rockets help wanted ad should be simple: “looking for a candidate with NBA head coaching experience and a fiery personality who can develop young players into stars.”

Otherwise ….

The Rockets franchise is hanging in the balance between being an NBA glamour franchise, a perennial playoff team loaded with All-Stars playing in front of packed Toyota Center crowds – or becoming Detroit or Orlando or just another non-factor NBA city trudging toward the lottery. Once you hit that status, it’s a long, tough road back. Ask Sacramento.

The Rockets are perilously close to irrelevancy. Once the hardest ticket in town, the Rockets promotions department was working overtime this season creating deals like “one ticket plus a quesadilla and a beer for $29.” You don’t need to see a menu to realize that the Rockets were literally giving away games free this season. And the stands were still half-empty some nights. Heck, one game the Rockets were giving away WWE Undertaker bobbleheads to lure fans into Toyota Center.

This was the year the NBA set an all-time, league-wide attendance record. A total of 22,234,502 fans watched games live in arenas. The Rockets should have been leading that charge, not using quesadillas as come-ons.

Everybody agrees that Silas is one heck of a guy, a sweetheart, a prince. But watching him sit on the bench placidly resigned to loss after loss got old. NBA analysts predict that Silas will be a prized get for a team looking for an assistant coach. Silas just may not be a head coach. It would be difficult for a struggling team to hire Silas, nearing his 50th birthday, as head coach and sell him to a bloodthirsty fan base.

The Rockets need a maniac with a short fuse to light a fire under their young roster. Let’s see some veins popping in foreheads on the sideline. Let’s get a coach who sweats through his sports jacket. I want the back row of the upper deck to hear our coach screaming at officials. It’s OK to get thrown out of a game to get Toyota Center crazy. We want the Rockets back on TNT and into the playoffs.

The New York Knicks languished for years as a non-factor, patsies on opponents’ schedules. Then they hired hothead Tom Thibodeau as coach, a Type A personality if ever there was one, and the Knicks are back, baby. Madison Square Garden is rocking again.

Rockets, do that.

Editor's note: The Rockets have received permission to interview Kenny Atkinson and Adrian Griffin for their vacant coaching position.

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