CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As a player Patrick Ewing never envisioned himself as an NBA head coach.
Now he can’t wait to become one.
The Hall of Famer who played 17 seasons in the NBA and has spent nine more as an assistant coach said he’s not angry about being passed over again for a head coaching job.
The 50-year-old Ewing said it’s only going to drive him to work harder to reach that ultimate goal.
“Every now and again I’m discouraged, but I look at it like, ‘Hey, I’m going to keep on working,” Ewing told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “Right now I’m blessed to have the opportunity to be coaching in the league. Every experience is a learning experience.”
Ewing was out of the league last year, but was hired in June by Bobcats coach Steve Clifford as the team’s associate head coach. The two previously worked together for eight seasons as assistants with the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets.
“It was a no-brainer,” Clifford said of the hire.
Ewing interviewed for the Charlotte head coaching vacancy last summer, and for Detroit’s in 2011.
“When I interviewed for the Bobcats job here and didn’t get it, I didn’t think it was in the cards for me,” Ewing said. “But when Cliff got the job this year, I thought it was a great opportunity. Being the first assistant, that’s going to be a great learning experience and will allow me to continue my tutelage and hopefully become a very good NBA coach someday.”
It even surprises Ewing that he wants so badly to become a head coach.
“When I was playing in the NBA I never thought I would want to be a coach,” Ewing said.
But in some ways Ewing was a coach at the time.
While playing for the New York Knicks he’d regularly return to his alma mater Georgetown and teach Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo many of the low post moves he’d learned at the pro level.
He’d also spend endless hours working with his oldest son Patrick Ewing Jr., now a member of the Bobcats summer league team.
After his retirement in 2002, Ewing bumped into longtime friend and former Dream Team teammate Michael Jordan and the two began talking about the future.
“I told Michael I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Ewing said.
Jordan, then an executive with the Washington Wizards, offered Ewing a spot as an assistant coach working behind the bench.
“They didn’t have a spot for me, so they created a spot,” Ewing said. “He told me, ‘See if you like it. If you like it we’ll move you to the front of the bench. If you don’t like it we’ll move you to the front office and see if you like that.’”
Ewing said he knew right away coaching was what he wanted to do in his post-playing career.
But the road to get to the top spot has been a struggle as less qualified candidates have been selected for NBA head coaching positions ahead of him.
Ewing said he’s not angry that Jason Kidd, who retired from the NBA and a week later was hired by the Brooklyn Nets as their head coach — with no NBA coaching experience.
“There are guys who haven’t put in as many years as I have, but I’m happy for them,” Ewing said.
The Knicks offered Ewing a head coaching position with their developmental league team, the Erie BayHawks, earlier this offseason but he turned it down.
“I felt it would be a step back,” Ewing said.
The combination of events upset his son, Patrick Ewing Jr., who took to Twitter to express his frustration over his father being passed over.
“I just felt like they never really offered my dad something solid, something that wasn’t a step below what he had been doing,” Ewing Jr. said on Tuesday.
Ewing Jr. said he believes there’s a perception that his father doesn’t fit the mold of a head coach because he played center, and that many believe “bigs” don’t make good coaches.
“Having played 17 years in the league, you can’t be just athletic for that many years,” Ewing Jr. said. “At some point he had to rely on his smarts and not just his athletic ability. So he’s definitely smart. He’s smarter than a lot of people perceive bigs to be. And he’s been around some of the best coaches in the game from Pat Riley to Don Nelson to John Thompson.”
Clifford has no doubts Ewing will get a shot at being an NBA coach.
“He has all of the qualities that would make for a great coach,” Clifford said. “He has a passion for the game, great knowledge and tremendous work ethic. And he has a definitive philosophy on how to play the game.”
For now, Ewing shrugs it off.
His focus is on doing the best he can to help Jordan’s struggling Bobcats turn things around.
“I hope I get a chance” to be an NBA head coach, Ewing said. “I’ve been doing this for a lot of years now, but right now it is what it is. So I’ll keep working.”