The Phoenix Suns aren’t exactly in good shape these days.
For the second time in the last four seasons, they’ve fired their head coach in the middle of the season. The guillotine fell on Jeff Hornacek Monday morning, 49 games into his third season on the job. The injury-plagued Suns are just 14-35 and are in 14th place in the Western Conference.
Earl Watson, who joined Hornacek’s staff as a full-time assistant in late December when Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting were fired, was elevated to the position of interim head coach.
Hornacek paid for the team’s struggles with his job.
“It was a difficult decision for us,” general manager Ryan McDonough told Doug and Wolf Tuesday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM — his first public comments since the firing. “He did a tremendous job here over two-plus years. We got off to a great start, winning 48 games in that first season.
“Unfortunately, it’s a tough business and the team hasn’t been responding as well lately. We’re struggling in terms of wins and losses and we have a lot of injuries, but beyond that, the team wasn’t responding to Jeff the way we hoped they would. We weren’t as competitive as we hoped we would be, and that’s why we made a change.
Hornacek went 101-112 in his time on the Suns’ bench. He’s been relieved of his duties, but it’s McDonough who is shouldering much of the blame for the depths the franchise finds itself in.
“I want to say a lot of this is on me,” he said. “I take responsibility for the state of the team and the roster. I need to do a better job, I know that. My staff and I know that. We know we’re on the clock and we need to step it up and improve our talent level.”
Hornacek’s firing is phase two of the changes on the team’s bench and comes just 35 days after Watson and Nate Bjorkgren were promoted to full-time assistants. McDonough was happy with the early results.
“The team competed that week after we made the changes with the assistants,” he said. “We thought giving some of the guys behind the bench who were assistant coaches more of a voice on the bench would help spur some change and bring some new energy. I think in the short term, it did.”
So why Watson, a former player who has only 17 games of full-time assistant coaching experience in the NBA?
“Earl Watson has a tremendous amount of basketball experience. He does not have a lot of coaching experience, but he was in the league for 13 years and he played with and studied under a number of legendary coaches, going back to John Wooden at UCLA,” McDonough said.
“I think that he’s one of those guys, that when he was playing, you realized he was a little bit different and a little bit special and he had the innate ability to connect with people and motivate people and we’re going to give him a chance and see what he can do.”
McDonough said the remaining 33 games will be a sort of audition for Watson, but a full coaching search will take place after the season.
“Earl is the interim head coach of the Phoenix Suns,” he said. “We are going to have a coaching search and obviously we’re in the very early stages of figuring out how that process will go.”
Watson will make his debut as the interim coach Tuesday night when the Suns host the Toronto Raptors at Talking Stick Resort Arena at 7:00 p.m. The game can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
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