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Keidel: Knicks Would Be Crazy To Bring Back Mike Woodson As Head Coach

Results Were Mediocre Last Time, So Why Try It Again?

Jason Keidel
April 16, 2018 - 11:56 am
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Some sequels are big hits. In cinema, "The Godfather Part II" is the only sequel to win an Oscar for best picture. In sports, Phil Jackson left the Bulls, came back to the NBA to coach the Lakers, then won five more NBA Finals. Dick Vermeil retired from the Philadelphia Eagles, then came back years later to lead the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl title. 

Maybe those qualify as comebacks as much as sequels.

But rarely, if ever, does a coach return to the same team and make it work. Which means, of course, the Knicks are considering it. Word is the Knicks' brass is scribbling Mike Woodson's name onto its shrinking list of finalists for the head coaching gig. Rather than the "Godfather" epic, this has all the hallmarks of another sequel -- "The Two Jakes," the follow-up film to "Chinatown." While we all cherished the Roman Polanski classic with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, "The Two Jakes" is among the worst movies ever made, one of the few yours truly walked out on long before it finished. 

At least when Joe Gibbs returned to the Washington Redskins, he had won three NFL championships. Likewise, Billy Martin won the 1977 World Series before he was fired and rehired (several times) by George Steinbrenner. Woodson's signature moment was a 54-win season and a tidy exit from the playoffs. But in the Knicks' universe, that's the equivalent of an empire.

MORE: Schmeelk: Knicks' Season A Colossal Failure In Every Possible Way

The Knicks flashed some modicum of competence by reportedly including former Warriors coach Mark Jackson and Toronto Raptors G League coach Jerry Stackhouse in their circle of candidates. But this Woodson thing is equal parts nostalgia, projection and incompetence. As if one year with their nostrils above the .500 waters is a sign of the glory days. This is not to knock Woodson as a coach or a man. He's had his moments in New York and Atlanta -- each ending with his dismissal, of course -- his crowning achievement was being named NBA Coach of the Month in April 2013. 

More than any sport, an NBA coach is as good as the talent on his team. No coach, from Phil Jackson to John Wooden to Red Auerbach, can make the Knicks a winner. So it's hard to fathom the allure with Woodson, who's about to turn 60, has won 46 percent of his regular-season games and 39 percent of his playoff contests. Maybe Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry feel they owe Woodson, now a Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach, a do-over. But with what? The Knicks are years from being any good. Their only bona fide star, Kristaps Porzingis, just missed most of the season with a knee injury, and there's no budding star/sidekick in the pipeline. 

This space has pined for Mark Jackson more than once. A New York native who won Rookie of the Year playing at Madison Square Garden, he has the talent and temerity to weather the storm in the standings and can thrive in the main nerve of American media. Should the Knicks pass on Mak Jackson and tap Stackhouse or ex-Grizzlies coach David Fizdale for the gig, that's quite acceptable. (You can decide if former Cavaliers coach David Blatt, who has reportedly scheduled an interview with the Knicks, is a wise choice.)

But it's rarely wise to recycle coaches, particularly those who never won a world championship during their maiden campaigns. The world is drooling over Jon Gruden going back to Oakland to coach the Raiders, but history is far from his side. We love to romanticize the old days because they always shine with time. They were younger, and we were younger. And that 54-win team in 2012-13 was the last time the Knicks finished above .500. 

MORE: Schmeelk: Ranking Knicks Rumored Head Coach Candidates

If you want a snapshot of the torment inside the World's Most Rancid Arena, consider this: Since Jeff Van Gundy quit the Knicks nearly 17 years ago, the Knicks lead the NBA in 50-loss seasons (nine) and head coaches (11), and have the worst winning percentage in the league (.403). 

Maybe like Vermeil, Woodson can take the reigns from some forlorn franchise and lead them deep into June. Lord knows he's either earned the chance or showed the painful patience it takes to fill a midseason vacancy left by a fired coach. And while he's professed interest in returning to New York, the Knicks would be doing Woodson a solid by hiring someone else. Woodson may be good enough to coach an NBA team, but he doesn't deserve a sequel in the squalor of Madison Square Garden. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel

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