Randy Wittman: “Sometimes you have teams that just kind of quit. These guys didn’t”

June 5, 2012 – 8:40 am by Chris Fedor

The Washington Wizards have been a bit of a mess for the last few seasons and even though the team tried to clean that up a bit with some trades midway through the season, the team still has a lot of work to do. John Wall needs to start playing like a former number one overall pick, they need to hit on the third pick that they received in this year’s NBA Draft and their young players need to mature a little bit. One of the first things that they needed to decide this offseason was the future of interim coach Randy Wittman. Wittman took over the head coaching position in Washington 17 games into this season and led the Wizards to an 18-31 record, including eight wins in their final ten games of the season. Whether it happens to be the right move or not, and history is against Wittman because he has yet to coach one of his teams to a winning record, signing him to a contract extension was another step towards Washington trying to clean up its organization and bringing some stability to the nation’s capitol.

Randy Wittman joined ESPN 980 in Washington D.C. with the Sports Fix to talk about what is different for him now that the “interim” tag has been removed, whether his approach changes as a head coach, on the difficulty of the condensed season and what he wants to see John Wall improve on this offseason.

What is different now that the “interim” tag has been removed:

“Not really. It isn’t. Once you got into the job and we moved down the road and the season continued on and even after the season I just kind of continued on until they told me to leave. I was going to continue to work, do the things that I normally would in this position but obviously hearing the news and moving forward I’m grateful for the opportunity that Ted and Ernie are giving me and then trusting in me to move this group forward. I’m grateful for that, there’s no question about that. When you’re dealing with a business that only has 30 jobs and you can land one of them it’s always special.”

Whether his approach changes now that he knows he is the head coach:

“No, I’m just one way. There’s no two different looks to me and what they saw of me for the 49 games that I coached them it will be the same. That’s what I believe and I think that’s what they want. They have an understanding of who I am, how I like to coach, the buttons I like to push and the things that need to be done and the way they need to be done. That’s a positive that really I got to audition for this job for 49 games. That’s a luxury coming into this. I kind of know and have a feel for who these guys are and there was a lot of positive things that happened, especially after we made the trades and changed the team around a little bit and ended the season winning eight out of ten. There were a lot of things that I liked that I wanted to make sure that I had an opportunity maybe continue down this journey.”

If the season was such a challenge, why did you want to take this job as a head coach?

“We’re not going to have another lockout hopefully. I shouldn’t say that because we had one in ’98 then we had one again but this is harder than the last lockout. I mean not even close. The last lockout was 50 games and we didn’t start until in to January but we stuck 66 games into a lot shorter.”

If the winning ways at the end of the year could be a mirage because the teams they were playing were resting stars:

“There’s some truth to that there’s no question. I’m not naïve enough to understand that obviously when we played Miami twice that (Dwyane) Wade and (LeBron) James didn’t play. We ran into a Chicago team that obviously (Derrick) Rose was hurt at that time but they played basically without Rose all year long and was the best record in the NBA. We had some very quality wins, we had a Philadelphia team that we played coming in here that was fighting for that eight spot in the playoffs and we beat here. We had Milwaukee who was a game out of the eight spot coming into the last 10 days that was trying to get in that we beat here so you saw enough good things, especially in a situation that this team is in. It’s very hard sometimes to get your team to understand ‘we’re playing this string out and we’re going to finish thing off as hard as we can’ when you know that there is nothing at the end of the rainbow for this year to do. Sometimes you have teams that just kind of quit. These guys didn’t. That showed me, especially as young as we were the pride that these guys had. That’s something you can’t instill in anybody. Either you have it or don’t and that was a positive for me to see that these guys, even through our ups and downs and with our injuries, we had Nene that missed a number of games, (Trevor) Booker missed a number of games, that these guys said ‘you know what we’re going to still try to win as many of these as we can going down the stretch here.”

On the improvements that he wants to see from John Wall this offseason:

“You guys talk about it every year. You’re not fooling me. He’s got to work on his jump shot number one and that’s just not from the standpoint of mechanics or repetition. Obviously that’s very, very big and we’ve already been full fledge into this with John and his understanding of what he has to do and how we are going to go about it and he’s really excited thus far in the five weeks since the season of what he’s been able to do. The other part is confidence. He’s got to have confidence in taking a shot. He can’t lose his confidence if he misses three or four shots. Ray Allen is considered one of the best shooters to ever play the game and you watched him in some of these playoff series and he missed four free throws. You can’t let that affect your confidence. It doesn’t matter if you’re John Wall or Michael Jordan, you can’t play this game without confidence. Kevin Seraphin is a perfect example. Last year this kid had zero confidence in what he could do on the floor and believing in his talents. This year, when his opportunity came, he was nothing but full of confidence and look what he did so that’s the main thing with John I think is mentally he can’t be like ‘geez I missed another shot.’ Then let that affect parts of his game.”

Listen to Randy Wittman on ESPN 980 in Washington D.C. here

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