By BRIAN CUNNIFF
A Wildwood High School graduate is now the head coach of one of the most iconic sports franchises in the world, an organization that includes one of the most iconic players in the world.
Frank Vogel, a 1991 graduate of Wildwood, is the new head coach of LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, according to multiple reports early Saturday evening. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Vogel’s contract is for three years.
The Lakers are the third NBA head coaching stop for Vogel. He was head coach of the Indiana Pacers from the middle of the 2010-11 season through the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, twice leading the franchise to a berth in the Eastern Conference finals. Ironically, the Pacers lost both times to James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After not signing a contract extension with the Pacers after the ‘15-16 season, Vogel signed a three-year deal to become the head coach of the Orlando Magic prior to the 2016-17 season. He was fired after his second season and spent the current NBA season as an informal coaching consultant for a handful of NBA teams.
The Lakers were initially linked to Monty Williams and Tyronn Lue in their head coaching search but both reportedly rejected offers from the team. According to numerous reports, Vogel first interviewed with the Lakers on Thursday, before apparently agreeing to terms on Saturday.
Vogel is replacing Luke Walton as coach of the Lakers. Walton and the Lakers agreed to part ways after a regular season in which the Lakers failed to qualify for the playoffs.
Walton was recently named the new the head coach of the Sacramento Kings.
Vogel takes over a Lakers organization that, after signing James to a max contract prior to last season, expected to compete for the Western Conference title. But inconsistent performances and a midseason injury to James derailed those hopes. The Lakers finished 37-45 and in 11th place in the conference. They were eliminated from playoff contention a few weeks prior to the close of the regular season.
ESPN also reported that former NBA all-star and NBA head coach Jason Kidd has agreed to to become one of Vogel’s top assistants.
Vogel takes a career regular-season NBA head coaching record of 304-291 to the Lakers. He went 250-181 during his tenure with the Pacers. Vogel is one of just 68 coaches in NBA history to win more than 300 career games.
Vogel, a native of Wildwood Crest, was an above-average high school basketball player at Wildwood High School. He played college basketball as a point guard at Division III Juniata before transferring to the University of Kentucky, where he became a student manager and later video coordinator for the men’s basketball team under famed head coach Rick Pitino.
Vogel made the jump to the NBA in 2001, becoming head video coordinator with the Boston Celtics after Pitino was named the team’s head coach. Five years later, Vogel was promoted to assistant coach. He later became an assistant coach for the 76ers under Jim O’Brien for one season before becoming a scout for one season apiece with the Lakers and the Washington Wizards. He went back to coaching when O’Brien was named head coach of the Pacers in 2007, before becoming an NBA coach for the first time after O’Brien was fired in January 2011.
Vogel’s jersey number is retired by Wildwood High School.
Vogel, who turns 46 next month, is married with two daughters.
Vogel is the second Wildwood High School graduate to work for the Los Angeles Lakers. Hamp Mears, a member of back-to-back state championship basketball teams at Wildwood in the early 1940s, served as a part-time scout for the team for more than three decades. Mears died in 2013 at the age of 92.
The Lakers have won 16 NBA championships and through their history have featured some of the best players in NBA history, such as Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.