Mike Woodson is moving closer to having the interim tag removed from his job title.
The Knicks have initiated talks that would keep Woodson as the team’s head coach for the foreseeable future, the Daily News has learned. The talks are only in the preliminary stages but it is clear that Madison Square Garden management is convinced Woodson is the right man for the job and will not pursue either Phil Jackson or Kentucky head coach John Calipari.
Woodson replaced Mike D’Antoni in March and emerged as the leading candidate to keep the job when the Knicks finished out the regular season 18-6.
Woodson’s agent, Keith Glass, declined to comment about any possible negotiations, while co-agent Joel Glass was unavailable for comment.
Coincidentally, a playoff win on Sunday — the Knicks’ first since April 29th 2001 — wasn’t necessarily critical for Woodson’s job security because the club approached him about a possible extension last week.
In fact, Garden chairman James Dolan met with Woodson in the head coach’s office for 45 minutes prior to the Knicks’ emotional Game 4 victory over the Heat. When asked on Monday if he believed that winning Game 4 helped his candidacy, Woodson said: “It’s not about Mike Woodson and my contract and where I go from here.”
Woodson has the support of several key players, most notably Carmelo Anthony. He also has a strong ally in GM Glen Grunwald, his former college teammate at Indiana. Both Grunwald and Woodson are long-time friends of former Knicks president Isiah Thomas, who serves as a de facto adviser to Dolan.
Grunwald and Thomas had to convince Dolan that Woodson would be a good hire after the front office encouraged — some would say demanded — that D’Antoni add an experienced assistant coach after the Knicks were swept by the Celtics in last year’s first round. It wasn’t Woodson’s coaching acumen that concerned Dolan. It was his relationship with Larry Brown.
Brown’s tumultuous one-year run as Knicks coach ended with Dolan and Thomas firing the head coach. The dispute was settled by the NBA league office but the bitterness still lingers even though Brown recently was quoted as saying that “Mr. Dolan” wants to bring a championship to New York. Woodson worked under Brown in both Philadelphia and Detroit and it is clear that he’s adopted some of Brown’s coaching principles and philosophies. He’s uttered some Brown-isms like “play the right way” and a Brown favorite, “smell the gym.”
Woodson also isn’t shy about offering both public praise and criticism of his players, something that Brown did regularly to Dolan’s dismay. On Friday, Woodson told reporters that he’d like to see Anthony work on his conditioning over the summer. Last month, he famously said he’d like to see J.R. Smith pull up his pants when he’s out in public.
Also, Woodson has shown he has the stomach to challenge his players while also getting them to perform. Both Anthony and Smith have played well under Woodson. Following the Knicks’ Game 3 loss to Miami, Woodson was upset with Baron Davis’ play, scolding the veteran point guard for not running the right plays.
Davis, though, played well on Sunday before suffering a serious knee injury that will keep him sidelined for at least 12 months. During a conference call with reporters on Monday, Woodson spoke glowingly about Davis, who has played with several injuries, giving the Knicks all he had with the season on the line.
Jackson is the most attractive free agent coach on the market, but the Knicks are reluctant to make a run at Red Holzman’s protégé because of Jackson’s age and health concerns. Calipari, because of his association with the Creative Arts Agency, which represents Anthony and J.R. Smith, among others, has been mentioned as a candidate for over a year but Calipari has said on numerous occasions that he wants to return to Kentucky, where he won his first national title in April.
Read more: [Only registered and activated users can see links. ]