Current Job: None (sat out the year after the Atlanta Hawks didn’t renew his contract)
- Head Coach, Atlanta Hawks (2004-2010)
- Assistant Coach, Detroit Pistons (2003-04)
- Assistant Coach, Philadelphia 76ers (2001-03)
- Assistant Coach, Cleveland Cavaliers (1999-2001)
- Assistant Coach, Milwaukee Bucks (1996-99)
Woodson has plenty of head-coaching experience, and the Hawks improved each year under his watch:
He helped mold young players like Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Josh Childress and Al Horford. The growth of those players wasn’t always steady, but over the long term, they definitely got better.
Offensively, he took a lot of criticism for his isolation-heavy offense, but the Hawks finished second in the NBA in offensive rating his final year. Under Larry Drew’s motion offense, they fell to 20th this year. Ideally, the Pistons will rely less on isolation than they did under John Kuester. Whether Woodson can adjust remains to be seen, because what he did in Atlanta worked fairly well with Joe Johnson, giving him little need to change there.
Woodson has a strong pedigree after spending time working under Larry Brown, and by all accounts, he’d be good steward for the team. I think the players would respect him more than the average candidate on the Pistons’ list. He’s been around as both a player and a coach, and his reputation says he’s a pretty straight shooter.
Woodson had a few run-ins with his players in Atlanta, but that’s bound to happen with any coach who keeps the same job for so long. The question is how he dealt with those problems and how he’d minimize them in Detroit. In an interview with him, I’d want to hear a clear plan.
Although Woodson has a reputation as a defensive-minded coach, his Atlanta teams never finished better than middle of the pack in defensive rating. They had some pretty talented defensive players, too.
Are the Pistons overvaluing Woodson’s time in Detroit? If he had been an assistant for any other team during that season, would they still have interest? At this point, as Kuester demonstrated, winning a championship as assistant here doesn’t come close to guaranteeing success as a head coach later.
The Hawks certainly improved under Woodson, but it’s difficult to tell how much credit he deserves. He inherited a young team, and young players typically improve regardless of their coach. Did he speed up or slow down the process? It’d be difficult to make a case that he slowed it down, but it’s not certain he sped it up, either.
Mike Woodson appears to be a fairly safe hire, and that might be why everyone says he’s the frontrunner for this job. Regardless of who deserves blame, Detroit’s last two hires – John Kuester and Michael Curry – saw their tenures end in disarray. Woodson, without requiring a total roster overhaul, could help right the ship.
But some of the questions about him, especially the Hawks’ underwhelming defense, should give Joe Dumars pause about hiring him. The Pistons could certainly do worse, but for someone whose biggest positive is being a safe hire, I’m not convinced he’s all that safe.