The Atlanta Hawks coaching search is now over as they’ve decided to hire longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer as head coach (per Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com).
Budenholzer has been an assistant to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich for 17 seasons (1996-2013), following a two-year stint as San Antonio’s video coordinator (1994-1996). Hawks GM Danny Ferry played for both Popovich and Budenholzer in San Antonio (2000-2003) and continued to cultivate that relationship as a member of Spurs management (2003-2005), and as VP of basketball operations (2010-2012).
That relationship obviously contributed heavily to the hiring of “Coach Bud” in Atlanta, as well as Budenholzer’s impressive resume and league-wide respect. In the introductory press conference on Wednesday Ferry stated, “I think Mike will certainly help us be more mentally tough by implementing clarity on a way to play that guys can and will believe in. They’ll buy in and they’ll play hard.”
To a casual basketball fan the hiring of Coach Bud might not seem that impressive, as he’s never been an NBA head coach. However some of the NBA’s greatest coaches were hired immediately after assistant coaching stints and turned out to excel in their first NBA head coaching gigs.
Popovich worked as an assistant to both Larry Brown and Don Nelson before becoming the GM of the Spurs and ultimately hiring himself as head coach early into his first season. Also, widely regarded as one of the NBA’s best head coaches, Tom Thibodeau (NBA Coach of the Year, 2011) served as Doc River’s assistant in Boston before getting his first head coaching job with the Chicago Bulls.
Speaking of the Chicago, that assistant coach they promoted to head coach back in 1989 who ended up winning 11 NBA championships worked out pretty well also.
None of the aforementioned coaches were big names at the time of their hiring, but they yielded great results nonetheless.
“I’m definitely not a sexy hire,” said Budenholzer. “Thankfully, that wasn’t on Danny’s shopping list.”
Another positive that can be taken from this for Hawks fans is the fact that you will be hard pressed to find anyone who has a bad thing to say about Coach Bud. Most Spurs fans were initially upset he left (mostly due to the fact that they were hoping for him to be Pop’s eventual replacement), but always ended those statements with well wishes.
Budenholzer will finish this season with the Spurs and will coach the NBA Finals alongside Popovich, who had high praise for the hiring also. Popovich told Windhorst:
I couldn’t be happier for Mike for many reasons. As anyone who’s been part of this program knows, he has been more of a co-head coach than an assistant for a long time. His knowledge of the game as well as his ability to teach and develop relationships with players are all special. I will miss him a great deal both professionally and personally and am confident that he and Danny will make a great team as the future unfolds.
The Hawks only have three players under contract for next season (Al Horford, Lou Williams, and John Jenkins), which gives them a substantial amount of flexibility. Consequently, they look to be very active in free agency, as they are projected to have over 35 million in cap room this summer.
With so much uncertainty headed into this offseason, the hiring of Budenholzer shows that the Hawks are clearly headed in the right direction.