I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not a huge Jeff Van Gundy fan, so I'm pleased to discover that the Houston Rockets, after several days of ambiguation, have finally relieved him of head coaching duties.
This isn't to say that Van Gundy was a horrible coach. His record with the Rockets - 182-146 over four seasons - isn't exactly miserable. And, to his credit, when he took over as coach prior to the 2003-04 season he led the Rockets to their first playoff appearance since 1999. During his four years at the helm, the Rockets went to the playoffs three times. But they never made it past the first round, and this simply wasn't enough for local fans who long for a return to the Clutch City glory days of yore. The most recent playoff apperance, which the Rockets lost in seven games to the Utah Jazz, was especially disappointing given the fact that the team had a relatively successful season, enjoyed home-court advantage in the series, and were up on Utah two games to none early on.
I've read other criticisms of Van Gundy that dealt with his coaching style: that it was not sufficiently offensive-minded, or that it was too rigid. I really can't evaluate those criticisms; my biggest gripe about him was his cranky persona (hence, the "Van Grumpy" nickname). Every time the Rockets won, he got in front of a TV camera to complain about the team. Every time the Rockets lost, he got in front of a TV camera to complain about the team even more. How are you supposed to instill confidence in your fans - much less your players - with that sulky attitude?
But neither his coaching style nor his persona had as much to do with his firing as his lack of success in the playoffs: those are the only results that matter. And Van Gundy, in spite of having talent like Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming at his disposal, could never get past the first round.
Getting rid of Van Gundy will not "fix" the Rockets. Their biggest problem - lousy management - is not going to go away until Les Alexander sells the team to a competent owner (the ham-fisted manner in which Alexander and the Rockets' front office handled Van Gundy's departure is, ironically, the latest example of such poor management). It also remains to be seen how much better Van Gundy's replacement - rumored to be longtime NBA coach Rick Adelman - will be. But this was a move that the Rockets simply needed to make, lest they become even more irrelevant to the local sports scene than they already are. Van Gundy is a good guy; he is not a bad basketball coach by any means. But it was simply time for him, and the Rockets, to move on.