Hey, Coach!

A history of the men who have guided Magic players over the last 27 years.

Courtesy of the Orlando Magic

As the Magic embark on their 27th season, it’s astounding to think that with the maiden voyage of the Frank Vogel era, the franchise will have employed an even dozen coaches. 

It all started with the affable Matt Guokas (1989-93 with a 111-217 record). Just when the Magic had stockpiled an impressive array of young talent and were poised to win, Guokas was jettisoned in favor of Brian Hill (1993-97; 191-104). Hill led the Magic into their first three postseason appearances in his three full seasons coaching the team, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 1995, where they were swept by the Houston Rockets.

A player coup orchestrated by point guard Penny Hardaway led to Hill’s firing in 1997 and the job fell on an interim basis to Hill’s old high school coach whom he had hired as an assistant—Richie Adubato. The colorful Adubato (1997; 21-12) took the Magic to the first round of the playoffs, where they lost to the Miami Heat in the fifth game of a five-game series. Feeling they needed a marquee name, the Magic turned to Chuck Daly that offseason. Daly (1997-99; 74-58) brought along two NBA titles on his résumé, but none in his two years with the Magic before he abruptly stepped away, but not before he wore out the phrase “It is what it is.’’ Daly led the Magic to one playoff appearance, whereupon they lost in the first round.

The Magic then went from a marquee name to a first-time coach in Doc Rivers (1999-2003; 171-168). Rivers’ hiring was partly because he was perceived as a rising star, and partly because of his close relationship with San Antonio center Tim Duncan, who was entering free agency. The Magic didn’t get Duncan, but they did get the 1999-2000 NBA Coach of the Year when Rivers led a Magic team projected to be a bottom feeder to a near playoff berth. Rivers tenure came to an unceremonious end when he was fired after a 1-10 start in 2003. The Johnny Davis era (2003-05; 51-84) followed, producing no playoff appearances during a rebuild. Davis was fired toward the end of the 2004-05 season and replaced in interim by Chris Jent (2005: 5-13).

That offseason, the Magic brought back the popular Brian Hill, perhaps hoping to not only right their ship, but right the wrong of capitulating to petulant players and firing Hill during his first stint. Hill (2005-07; 76-88) lasted three years and led the Magic to one playoff appearance that saw them get swept. After Hill’s second firing, the Magic turned to their most successful and perhaps most popular coach, Stan Van Gundy (2007-12; 259-135). Beloved for his tell-it-like-it-is style, Van Gundy also won, compiling the franchise’s best regular-season winning percentage (.657) and postseason winning percentage (.525). Van Gundy, who led the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals (a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers) bluntly called out center Dwight Howard as wanting him fired, and the Magic subsequently did, despite the fact that Van Gundy led the team to the playoffs all five seasons he was here.

What followed was the bland Jacque Vaughn (2012-15; 58-158) reign of bad basketball. The Magic were constantly rebuilding but never really rebuilding. When Vaughn’s record reached 100 more losses than wins, the Magic fired him and replaced him in interim with James Borrego (2015; 10-20). In a popular move, the Magic brought back one of their original franchise players in Scott Skiles (2015-16; 35-47). But without explanation, Skiles abruptly quit after his only season, opening the way for the Magic to hire Frank Vogel.

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