Who are the best coaches in Indiana Pacers franchise history?
Breaking down these coaches will help Pacers Nation relive some of the team’s best years in the NBA.
For the purposes of this article, we will limit the scope to the Pacers’ NBA franchise history from 1976 to the present day.
We will also rank these head coaches based on their respective records and long-term impact on the franchise.
3. Larry Brown
Larry Brown was one of the most nomadic head coaches in NBA history.
It wasn’t uncommon for Brown to spend four years in an NBA city before bolting for another one.
Brown spent four seasons with the Pacers from 1993 to 1997.
That was a pivotal turning point in the team’s NBA history.
While Dick Versace and the immaculately-dressed Bob Hill turned Indy into first-round playoff contenders, Brown turned the Pacers into perennial Eastern Conference finalists.
That would have been unimaginable when Indy was a moribund franchise five years earlier.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t stop anybody.
Larry Brown coached all four of the extant ABA franchises: Nuggets, Spurs, Pacers and Nets. pic.twitter.com/furtZbqMbF
— ProHoopsHistory, PhD (@ProHoopsHistory) September 14, 2018
The Pacers also activated bruiser Antonio Davis – who made a formidable tandem with the other Davis, Dale – after honing his hoops skills in Europe for several years.
Finally, they acquired playmaker Mark Jackson from the Los Angeles Clippers prior to the 1994 NBA season.
Those moves took Indiana to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference for the next several years.
Brown averaged 48 wins per year during his four-year tenure at the helm from 1993 to 1997.
He guided Indy to consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances against the hated New York Knicks.
Bear in mind Brown called the shots when Miller exploded for 25 fourth-quarter points in 1994 and eight points in nine seconds at Madison Square Garden a year later.
Brown definitely made a profound impact on Pacers franchise history.
2. Frank Vogel
Frank Vogel introduced the concept of “Smashmouth Basketball” to Indianapolis.
That group stifled the opposition night in and night out.
It was one of the best defensive units in Pacers NBA franchise history.
Regrettably, they couldn’t get past the Heat and their quest for a title repeat in 2012 and 2013.
Nonetheless, Vogel not only proved he could coach at the NBA level, but he also changed the Pacers’ fortunes dramatically.
Prior to Vogel’s tenure as head coach, the Pacers endured one of their darkest eras under Jim O’Brien.
The Pacers’ free fall began in the aftermath of the infamous “Malice at the Palace” brawl in 2004 during Rick Carlisle‘s first tour of duty as Indiana’s head coach.
Unfortunately, O’Brien couldn’t get the Pacers over the hump.
Just about the only bright spot during his forgettable tenure from 2007 to 2011 was sweet-shooting All-Star forward Danny Granger.
Behind Vogel’s leadership, the Pacers’ “Smashmouth” style of basketball revitalized the franchise and the city of Indianapolis from 2011 to 2016.
1. Larry Bird
No other Pacers head coach did more in less time than Indiana native Larry Bird.
Nobody saw Bird’s success coming considering he had zero head coaching experience prior to his hire in 1997.
His predecessor, Brown, improved the Pacers’ defense and turned them into perennial Eastern Conference finalists.
Bird inherited a veteran squad that took it a step farther – they vanquished the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals and made it to the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000.
That has been Indy’s only NBA Finals appearance since it joined the Association in 1976.
Despite falling short to Los Angeles in six games, the Pacers sent a clear message to the rest of the league – they were for real.
Bird had a gaudy 147-67 (68.7 percent) win-loss record as Pacers head coach.
In three years as the Pacers coach Larry Bird:
Overall Record: 147-67 (68.7%)
3 Consecutive East Finals Appearances
1 NBA Finals Appearance pic.twitter.com/9awEGfrGGh
— Alex Golden (@AlexGoldenNBA) March 27, 2020
Mullin joined the squad in 1997 and helped ease the scoring load and perimeter shooting off Miller.
Rose, a holdover from the Brown era, gave the Pacers a potent one-two scoring punch alongside Miller.
Croshere, a Bird favorite, became Indy’s unsung hero with his average of 15 points off the bench during the 2000 NBA Finals.
Another key to Bird’s success was simplicity.
Unlike Bird’s coaching contemporaries, he only had two assistants, Rick Carlisle and Dick Harter.
The Pacers didn’t need many – they were a veteran-laden squad during Bird’s tenure from 1997 to 2000.
Larry Bird set the coaching bar high for his predecessors in Indianapolis.
He remains the best coach in Pacers NBA franchise history.