New York Knicks interim coach Mike Woodson has his star player, Carmelo Anthony, and the Knicks squad performing at their best again

What a difference a coach makes.

Mike Woodson’s all-too-timely promotion to head coach of the New York Knicks is seeing a recently-ailing franchise currently enjoying its second sudden, unexpected surge of the truncated 2011-12 NBA season. (The first time, this guy was the focus, if you don’t remember.)

In basketball, especially in the NBA, a change of head coach can have profound effects on a team’s personnel and fortunes. The game is so focussed around set-plays and defensive systems at the elite level that Woodson’s isolation-heavy offense is completely different to the “seven seconds or less” philosophy of his predecessor, Mike D’Antoni.

Under D’Antoni, defense seemed anathema, Carmelo Anthony’s ball-stopping habits essentially strangled the team’s entire offense, and in trying to push the pace and create for his teammates, point-guard sensation Jeremy Lin was committing turnovers at almost unprecedented rates (5.6 a game between his Feb 2 breakout and the All-Star Weekend… to go with 22.6 points and 9 assists a game).

The Knicks have been capitulating since the All-Star Weekend, though, suffering through a six-game losing streak before D’Antoni announced he was stepping down. All hail the new age at Madison Square Garden – Woodsanity.

(Yeah, turns out it pretty much works for anyone.)

Woodson’s playbook is completely different to D’Antoni’s, and the results have been profound. Despite rumours he was headed back down the rotation, Lin has continued to flourish. Anthony’s smile is back – even if his numbers aren’t soaring just yet – and the Knicks are playing more cohesively on the defensive end. Most importantly of all, perhaps, is that Woodson – not famed for being a guy to give his back-ups much of a role – is allowing the likes of Jared Jeffries, Steve Novak and JR Smith to just carry on doing their thing.

The former Atlanta coach’s turnaround of the Knicks’ difficult situation has me thinking back to last season, when first-time head coach Frank Vogel succeeded Jim O’Brien in Indiana and immediately took the Pacers on a 7-1 run before landing the gig permanently in the off-season. And up on the northern Pacific coast, it appears the trend is about to continue with Kaleb Canales’ first two games as Portland head coach having gone unexpectedly well (even if, in that situation, player changes are as much an issue as the coaching switch).

Martin O'Neill's energetic management style has breathed new life into Sunderland (Getty)

A new coach or manager can have an instant impact on a team in any sport, though. The Premier League has seen one example of how fresh energy and impetus can revive a team’s season through the miracles Martin O’Neill has worked with Sunderland since replacing Steve Bruce in December. The Irishman’s characteristic drive and enthusiasm seems to have filtered around his dressing room and the likes of young winger James McClean have enjoyed new leases of life under O’Neill’s management.

Judy Murray's (centre) mentoring and will to win are ringing true with Great Britain's female tennis stars, (from left) Anne Keothavong, Laura Robson, Elena Baltacha and Heather Watson (Getty)

Sometimes, a high-profile appointment is just the fillip for a struggling group of players to regain some confidence in their game. The announcement of Judy “mother of Andy” Murray as the Great Britain Fed Cup captain, also last December, has revitalised Britain’s embattled female tennis stars, and at the Europe-Africa Group I tournament in early February, Murray’s impact on Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong, Laura Robson and Heather Watson was plain to see. The group produced their best collective effort in Fed Cup (the women’s Davis Cup) competition, winning four matches in six days.

Interim manager Stuart Lancaster has been ruthless in reshaping the England rugby squad, which is already seeing the results of his upheaval (Getty)

There are odd occasions in which a new coach has to clear out his squad and begin anew, perhaps having to redesign a team or re-focus its culture. England Rugby’s interim team manager Stuart Lancaster has certainly managed that – his squad have notched an impressive four wins out of five in the 2012 RBS Six Nations to dispel some of the clouds hanging over the team after players’ antics at last year’s World Cup in New Zealand. Lancaster set the tone when he selected Chris Robshaw, who received his only previous England cap in 2009, as captain for the Six Nations and the team has responded by demonstrating tangible improvements in every game of the tournament.

Of course, changing a team’s head coach or manager isn’t always the solution to a problem – you can have a player destroying the team’s chemistry, financial woes wreaking havoc on a club’s chances of success, or get the appointment of the incoming tactician wrong, worsening your squad’s issues. But in the cases of Woodson, O’Neill, Murray and Lancaster, change is proving to have a positive impact on their respective squads’ fortunes.

Back to Basketball, Football, Rugby or Tennis

Follow the Armchair Pundits on Twitter (@armchairpundit2) or like us on Facebook!

Advertisements