By all accounts, Phil Jackson retired as a head coach in 2011.
In his final rodeo during the 2010-11 season, Jackson had consistently made it clear throughout the year he was done coaching. While he has technically kept his word five years later, the 11-time champion may not be done coaching after all.
Ken Berger of CBS Sports has an interesting piece looking at the New York Knicks‘ structure of power. In the article, he discusses the roles of Jackson as president of the franchise, James Dolan as the team owner and Kurt Rambis as interim head coach. As everyone knows, the Knicks are still “looking” for a new head coach, but Berger presents an interesting theory.
Berger’s theory—which he says is an informed one from an executive who is familiar with how the franchise operates—claims that Jackson is really the coach behind the scenes, with Rambis acting as a surrogate head coach. Essentially, Jackson is still the one that is running how the team operates on the court, with Rambis being the individual that travels on those long road trips while holding the title of head coach.
Here is an excerpt from Berger’s piece arguing in favor of this theory:
“There’s no one else alive whose coaching resume can compare to Jackson’s. So getting Jackson to earn his keep by actually coaching the Knicks would be viewed as a coup — if only he were physically capable. Reality dictates that Jackson can’t do it anymore; the grind of the road, even in first-class, layback seats on the Knicks’ charter, would grind his artificial joints into dust. The monotony of it would drive him to distraction.”
Jackson has had surgeries in the past for his 70-year-old body. As Berger notes, Jackson can’t handle the amount of travel that is required of a full-time coach. It was one of the reasons he walked away as a head coach five years prior.
It wouldn’t surprise many if this is how the team actually plans to operate heading into the 2016-17 season. Jackson was hired as an executive late in the 2013-14 season but has failed to bring any success to the franchise.
When you consider Jackson’s insistence on the triangle offense being used for the Knicks heading into next season, it’s realistic to believe he’s been playing puppet master all along.