According to Dale Carnegie, “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.” But in this case, I feel strongly that Brett Brown was and still is the best person for the job of Head Coach for the Philadelphia 76ers. Today is his 6 year anniversary of being hired into the position. Looking back, he truly was the right hire for the right position at the right time.
Brett Brown: The Right Hire for the 76ers.
“We went through an exhaustive search to find the right head coach for our organization, one who had a passion for developing talent, a strong work ethic to help create the kind of culture we hope for, and a desire to continually improve,” general manager Sam Hinkie said. “Brett has all of that. He also has a wealth of experience as a head coach and a championship pedigree, to boot. We are delighted to welcome him as our coach, and I am invigorated for the two of us to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Six years ago today, back in August 2013, Brett Brown was hired to lead the Philadelphia 76ers. They were in a total rebuild mode. He decided to leave the San Antonio Spurs, where he was an assistant coach under future hall of famer Greg Popovich. In 11 years with the Spurs, he helped them win 4 NBA championships. He was most notably known for his player development and solidifying their bench play during those championship runs.
From a Sixers fan point of view or even from the media, this hire seemed like a complete head scratcher. Why would the 76ers want to hire a coach who hasn’t missed the playoffs with the San Antonio Spurs in the past 11 years, and also had three perennial all-stars in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker? At the time of the hire, Brett Brown would inherit the youngest team in NBA history, with no all-stars. I spent weeks of studying Brett Brown and did more research into this hire and the process. It became clear to me that Brett Brown was the right man for this position, and still is.
The most glaring thing that stood out for me was that Brett Brown had EXCELLENT teachers and mentorship during his playing and coaching career leading up to accepting the 76ers position:
- Bob Brown, his father was his high school coach, where they won a state championship in Brett’s senior year of high school in 1979.
- Rick Pitino, his college coach at Boston University for 4 years led them to their first NCAA tournament in 1983 for the first time in 24 years.
- Lindsay Gaze, legendary Australian player and National coach took Brett Brown under his wing for 5 years, including winning an NBL championship in 1993 with the Melbourne Tigers.
- And then of course his tenure with the San Antonio Spurs, under the great leadership of Greg Popovich, where they had eleven consecutive 50 win seasons, and again winning 4 NBA championships.
Aside from X’s and O’s, it looks pretty good on your resume to play for or work next to three Hall of Famers, and one Future Hall of Famer. Bob Brown was inducted into the New England Basketball hall of fame. Rick Pitino was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Lindsay Gaze was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame and Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. And of course Greg Popovich will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Needless to say, that’s a pretty desirable basketball umbrella to learn from, grown, and develop as a coach and leader.
What Else made Brett Brown the Right Hire?
There were many factors that lead to Brett Brown being the right hire for the position of head coach for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The elements I believe were most important include:
- Being the son of a head coach and growing up in that environment.
- Understanding what it takes to win as a team while playing in high school and college.
- Desire to be a head coach and ultimately sacrificing his entire life to move to Australia, where he spent 12 years, including being the Head Coach for the Australian National team.
- Key role in developing players, and building a championship bench during his time with the Spurs. You win games with “a” players, but you win championships with “a” and “b” players. Vital in sports and business. Brett had a passion for developing players, and his message to his players was “you can always keep improving.”
- The experience he had with the Spurs and under Coach Popovich that taught him how to create a culture of winning and character.
- Seeing firsthand what it takes day in and day out to win a championship both during the season and in the off-season.
- Understanding the type of player personnel needed to sustain championship teams. With the Spurs, they had talented, high character men who genuinely cared about each other, and also had to the desire to improve themselves.
- His personality: High energy, optimistic, passionate, grateful, and most importantly to Brett was building meaningful relationships. Brett has a saying that he asks himself during tough situations, or decisions, and that is “what’s most important”? And it’s always relationships and people.
Brett Brown was not going to accept the position as the Sixers’ next coach on a 3 year contract. He fully understood the road ahead was going to be a challenge. Brett was optimistic, but also realistic. The 76ers ownership showed him great confidence when they offered him a 4 year contract, which he obviously accepted.
It was extremely important for the ownership and General Manager Sam Hinkie to be completely aligned with Brett Brown and the process ahead. This was a commitment to Brett Brown that the 76ers organization understood this 4 year plan would be a long process. It would require patience and tolerance each and every day. During Brett Brown’s first 4 years as the 76ers head coach, this partnership played a huge role. Lets be honest, Brett took a huge leap of faith with the 76ers organization, and to the 76ers credit, they were fully supportive during those dreadful first 4 years. The 76ers organization never hit the panic button, they never pointed fingers, and most importantly believed in Brett Brown.
In his first season as head coach for the 76ers in 2013-2014, they tied the NBA’s longest consecutive losing streak of 26 games. The 76ers were 75-253 in their first 4 seasons under Brett Brown. That’s a 29% winning percentage, and not exactly attractive. They had two first round draft picks in back to back seasons that would sit out due to injury. That was Joel Embiid and then Ben Simmons the following season. The 76ers were basically playing with a minor league team so to speak, but still believed in the process, and the plan they put together when they hired Brett Brown.
If the original 4 year contract wasn’t enough, the 76ers gave Brett Brown another contract extension after the 2015-2016 season, where they would manage to win only 10 games! Again, their belief in Brett Brown never wavered, and this would be a huge motivator for Brett Brown going forward. The word “trust” can go a long way.
What made the rebuild of the Philadelphia 76ers a success for Brett Brown?
- Commitment and understanding from both the ownership and Brett Brown.
- Staffing the “right” people and putting them in the right positions. Surrounded himself with people that had high energy and high standards.
- “Trust the Process”, and keep eye on the prize.
- Trust from ownership along the way, and not just that final day in the office before the hiring.
- At times, the process was painful. But Brett Brown was always optimistic and realistic.
- Keeping the locker room together is important.
- Creating energy in the office and in the gym at all times, and spread it through others
- Concentrate on effort and mindset.
- Development: New state of the art training complex and corporate office for individual workouts, analytics, and fitness built in 2016 in Camden, NJ. (When Brett Brown arrived, they practiced with other teams at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in suburban Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the corporate office of 76ers operations was in South Philly by the Navy Yard.) This was HUGE for Brett Brown who was so passionate about development. This was their vision from the initial hire. Now they have a designated place to develop players, coaches, and administration all in one building.
Passion for Development.
Brett Brown’s desire to learn and improve has been contagious to the team during this process.
- Passion for developing others, both Players and coaches. (His trademark in San Antonio as an assistant was making lesser known players relevant, and making them impactful players during those championship runs.) In Philadelphia, he has developed two rookie of the year players in Michael Carter Williams and Ben Simmons. He also developed two G-league players in TJ .McConnell and Robert Covington into quality NBA players who received multi-year contracts. And just recently developed two all-stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Brett Brown also groomed three of his assistant coaches:
- Lloyd Pierce, now Head Coach for the Atlanta Hawks.
- Monty Williams, now Head Coach for the Phoenix Suns.
- Billy Lange, now the Head Coach for St. Joseph’s University.
- Desire to self-improve, and willingness to learn. It’s hard for Philly fans or the media to remember that Brett Brown saw the game of basketball through a defensive lens prior to arriving in Philadelphia. Working and developing on the offensive part of the game has been a slow, but positive progression. In his first 4 and a half seasons, there were 5-second violations on inbounds plays, poor execution out of timeouts, blown 4thquarter leads, questionable substitutions, and the inability to win close games under 2 minutes in the 4th. Brett has worked extremely hard developing himself as a coach on the offensive end, and improving on “special teams” plays and executing in late game situations. Every morning between 6:00am-6:30am, Brett Brown gets his coffee, opens up his Dropbox links, and emphasizes and reviews end of game situations. Over the last 1.5 seasons, the execution has been much better. They’re winning games with leads heading into the 4thquarter, he has figured out personnel, and is putting the right players in at the right times. Most importantly, he is winning those close-knit one-possession games. He also runs 4 or 5 miles everyday to clear his head before games. Lets also mention he runs with no music. During his runs, he tried to figures out how to get the best out of his guys and put them into positions to make winning plays. (Take an inside look at Coach Brett Brown’s game day routine here)
- Same words for 6 seasons: Growth, Improvement, Develop, Learn, and Culture. He has never steered away from those words in post-game interviews whether it was a tough loss or dominating win. He used those words when they won only 10 games earlier in his 76ers coaching career. And, he used them again this season right after the gut-wrenching loss in game 7 to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 playoffs.
Listen to some of Brett Brown’s Press Conferences, and you will immediately notice the following:
- Takes pride and humility to work for the 76ers organization
- Builds confidence in others
- Stands up tall for players during difficult situations on and off the court
- Desire to develop others, and improve himself
- Ability to rise above adversity and stick with the plan
- Takes total ownership and responsibility for losses (a lot of them)
- Gives credit to others when they win
- Thoughtful when speaking to players, staff, or media. Honest message
- Self-awareness and self-reflection
- Ability to steer several different personalities into one bigger goal
- Great listener
- Keeping the locker room together before anything else
- Never blames or complains even in the face of obstacles. (They had poor practice facilities early on, two 1st-round draft picks injured, and a 26 game losing streak. In addition there were multiple player changes through the seasons and 3 General Manager changes. Furthermore, for a few months this season, Brett Brown served as both the Head Coach and GM.)
Are You a Good Leader?
Brett Brown is the face of the 76ers organization. Joel Embiid said it best in his exit interview right after the season ended. “Coach Brown is an amazing coach, and better person.” Coming from the team’s best player, that can’t be underestimated.
Want to know if you’re a good leader in sports or business? Ask your players or employees.
What do you think about Coach Brett Brown? Comment below or get in touch. Here’s all the ways you can contact me, Coach Haggerty.