My Coaching Idol
People are often surprised to find out that my favorite coach is not a European or South American manager. In fact, he's not even a soccer coach. Phil Jackson has had a profound impact on me both personally and in my capacity as a coach.
As both a child of 90s and a kid from Los Angeles, Phil's Bulls and Lakers were omnipresent during my adolescence. Beyond the 11 championships that Phil won with those two teams, I am impressed with his ability to both design and then implement his "triangle offense" with a wide array of characters: superstars, role players, egomaniacs, and the occasional wild child. His eclectic leadership philosophy allowed him to reach players like Michael Jordan and Kobe while at the same time corralling players like Dennis Rodman and Metta World Peace. He leaned on Zen practices and Native American philosophy, as well as his upbringing in an evangelical family, to impact those around him. Phil's unique leadership style forged personal bonds that helped create buy-in for his triangle offense that would dominate the NBA for decades.
At its core, the triangle offense leverages player positions and ball movement to create dilemmas for the defense. The movement of players and the ball creates free runners, gives them open looks at the basket, and forces the defense to constantly shift and chase shadows. With a laser focus on this philosophy, Phil led his teams to an astonishing execution of his triangle offense, racking up 11 championships (three separate 3-peats) in 20 years of coaching while never finishing lower than third and never finishing with a losing record in the regular season.
To give an example of how Phil's philosophy impacted his players beyond the games they played for him, Steve Kerr was the Bulls' point guard under Phil for five years. When Kerr took over as head coach for the Golden State Warriors, he leaned heavily on the principles of the triangle offense—principles he had learned nearly two decades earlier. Starting in his very first year, Kerr immediately took the diminutive (by NBA standards at least) Warriors from relative obscurity to five straight first place finishes and three NBA championships. His Warriors' ability to create free shooters in Steph Curry & Klay Thompson was a stark reminder of Phil's teams' ability to do the same with Kobe & Shaq and Michael & Scotty. Phil's influence on Kerr was so great that the master's principles directly led to the apprentice's own dominant coaching career many years after they had last worked together.
Phil's rare combination of effective leadership and tactical acumen inspire me to be better. He is a constant reminder of how much I need to improve but also of the rewards that come to those who seek that self-improvement and stick with the right principles of play.
At Flagstaff Revolution, we value principles over unprincipled success. The same sort of principles that led to 15 NBA Championships for the two coaches that most embody the triangle offense can be found in any invasion game, including soccer. That is, the triangle offense is really not so different from what we use in our "positional play" game model for soccer. For us, it looks like using player combinations (usually triangles or diamonds) to attract defensive pressure to one part of the field before moving the ball to free players elsewhere on the field.
The expression of our positional play principles is intentional, not accidental. Flagstaff Revolution's club-wide curriculum starts with these principles and one of the things I'm most proud of is the eclectic group of coaches from diverse backgrounds that deliver that curriculum. Similar to Phil's own motley crew of players, we glean insights from: former players, physicians, teachers and professors, Veterans, financial planners, web designers, moms and dads, and even brewers!
At Flagstaff Revolution, this is what we mean when we say we are a club. We are simply a group of people committed to each other and some universal principles that help our players learn to play the game the way the best teams do. We see the leadership and the tactics that lead to greatness in the soccer world, in the greater sporting world, and beyond, and we strive to emulate that and make it our own.
Check out Klay Thompson talking about Steve Kerr's influence and the relationship between the triangle offense of Warriors basketball and the tiki-taka style of Barcelona club soccer.