In Defence of Smitch

By Jeff Wong

Toronto Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell has been called a coach-in-training, a lame duck, the worst coach in the NBA, and just plain bad.

Now you can add “Coach of the Month.” One of these things is not like the other…

Yes, it’s time to stop the outdated jokes. Perhaps the Globe and Mail’s Michael Grange put it best, noting the following positives in Mitchell’s third and best season (so far) as the Raptors’ bench boss:

There’s little doubt Mitchell has been more than a handsome suit stalking the sidelines this season.

Not only are the Raptors better defensively than last season — currently ranked 13th in the NBA in defensive efficiency — but they’ve also improved dramatically through the season, suggesting it’s not just the new faces that have made the difference. The club’s offensive efficiency — 17th in the 30-team league — has also improved steadily…

Also, past rosters offer several examples of former Raptors — Matt Bonner, Mike James and even Rafer Alston — whose best years came playing for Mitchell and no obvious cases of players who have thrived after leaving. Prize rookie Charlie Villanueva (now with the Milwaukee Bucks) improved over the course of last season, as Bargnani has this season.

Sure, Mitchell is by no means the perfect Raptors coach. As The Star’s Dave Feschuk points out, he has been outdueled at times, and his team could have won a few more of those close games early on had he managed his personnel better. Besides, GM Bryan Colangelo may still opt to replace Mitchell with whomever he deems to be a better candidate, whether it’s Marc Iavaroni or someone else.

But let’s not pretend that he’s a bad coach anymore. At worst, call him “mediocre coach,” but no longer “Smitch, the Butt of Jokes.”


8 thoughts on “In Defence of Smitch

  1. This fall I laughed when Franchise suggested that keeping Sam Mitch in the fold could be dangerous. He believed that if Sam lead the Raps into the playoffs it would mean he’d stick around – would winning this award be a step towards keeping him here?

    I can concede that’s he’s made big strides this season, however, I’m not sold on him as a head coach.

  2. It’s hard to argue with Michael Grange’s line of reasoning. But can another coach bring better results to this team? Hard to say – not even Bryan Colangelo would know for sure.

    There’s something to be said for continuity, though – the team is practically brand new and only just starting to gel. If a new coach were to come in next season, they’d have to adjust again. Is it really worth it to change coaches again? Or should Mitchell be extended for another couple of years?

  3. you guys just won’t give sam mitchell a break. Look at the team he had last year, with vince and without vince. If anything this was his year to prove to any1 what kind of a coach he is. Lets face it last year besides chris bosh there was no talent on that team this year every1 in some way is stepping up. The raps reached .500, we have player of the month and rookie of the month all of that in the first season that every1 was new to this team except for like 3 players. Sure sam isn’t going to be coach of the year but give him a break. Even if the raps don’t make it to the playoffs which they should they have showen a ell of an improvement. Yes it is the players but also some good coaching. It will be interestin to see what happens after all star break but lets jus wait and find out. Im hearing on the radio yes the raps r winning but they should still fire sam. What is that all about????? they are winning! geezzzz. And I hate to say it, is it cause he is black? Im white but you never know. I for one was thinking Oh sam he won’t stay i’ll give him till christmas but he has proven that given talent on the team he can do a decent job.

  4. I think Sam has grown so much over his 3 seasons as head coach for this team. From Vince to Rafer to “Me, Myself and I” Mike James. It’s been a big turnaround this season and I think it has shown that Mitchell ain’t all that bad if he has a team to work with. The one thing I worry about if Mitchell does get fired (which I don’t think should happen if the Raptors make the playoffs, which they will) is that it seems like the players really do like his style and appreciate his dedication to them. He respects them as players and all he does is try to let them improve as players.

    How would a different coach react to this collection of players? The core players on this team really seem to respond to Mitchell so that’s a key factor.

  5. While I agree that this is the year to judge Sam because he finally has adequate talent to work with I was baffled countless times last season with his substition patterns and in game management in general. I think a perfect case of this is allowing Kobe to explode for over 80 points.

    You can knock me as being a pessimist but I can’t help but feel Sam Mitchell isn’t the coach that will win us a Championship. I think Sam could fit into the same mold as other coaches like Mike Brown and Rich Carlisle who are strong coaches but won’t be the kind of coach to guide your team to a NBA Championship like Pop or Phil Jax can. While the growth and gains made by the Raps this season are amazing and worth celebrating, the bottom line is players, owners and fans want Championship. Making baby steps towards this goal is great for this season but there will come a time when we need to make some tough moves to earn a Championship (much like the Pistons did when they fired Rick Carlisle and hired Larry Brown).

    With that being said… Sam deserves some huge kudos for getting this squad above 500. Heading into the season few people that cover the team nationally expected the Raps to do anything and to get 9 new players comfortable with his system and to make this team a tight unit so quickly is something worthy of praise.

  6. OK, lets hire Larry Brown, or Phill Jackson, or Popovich, itll only cost $10 million per for 4 years, plus starting over again with new players that the will be happy with.

  7. Got the sarcasm, Johnn19. 😉

    I agree with you, too, Tesha – we have to give Sam Mitchell a break. The results speak for themselves. Having replaced malcontents and ballhogs like Mike James, Lamond Murray, Loren Woods, Rafer Alston, Jalen Rose, etc. with quality players/personalities, the team is playing like a team and is winning games.

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