Five seconds into his first post-game press conference as Milwaukee Bucks head coach, Jim Boylan did something Scott Skiles never has in his four and a half years at the helm.
He started talking.
For eight minutes and some change, Boylan ran the gamut of archetypal coach-speak points that accompany a decent win. The overarching message wasn't diverged from Skiles' (make the team play up to its potential); rather, it was the delivery that felt different.
A typical Skiles press conference is often rife with compliments paired with caveats, an occasional terse response to a question deemed unworthy, and a brutal honesty that often, fairly or unfairly, slaps the "cold" label on Skiles' forehead. More often than not, the less he says, the more you know about Skiles' position on a given subject.
In contrast, Boylan's Tuesday nightcap presser often featured answers stacked on details stacked on positive-flavored sound bites that set a different tone from the gruff intensity we've come to expect from Skiles.
That's not to say that Boylan is a better coach or man than Skiles. The NBA's best coach (Gregg Popovich) is notoriously disinterested in the press, and hilariously chastising at times. The "good cop, bad cop" contrast worked well enough for Skiles to keep Boylan as his main assistant for almost a decade. Boylan's approach to media relations just happens to be more palatable for fans and those of us asking questions.
Of course, it would be egotistical to call this the biggest difference between Skiles and Boylan. Rather, it's a small piece of a larger communication issue that has puzzled fans, players, and media members alike ever since Skiles has been a head coach.
Consider Skiles' comments at Bucks Media Day way back in October. Documented by Behind The Buck Pass and analyzed by Bucksketball, Skiles had this to say about communication being a key to success with a loaded frontcourt:
"We don't want to be in a position where guys are looking over their shoulder every night and wondering when they're going to play. We have to keep an open line of communication. But the reality is there's going to be nights where there may be three guys that deserved to play in the game and didn't play at all or didn't get the minutes they wanted."
We know how that worked out. Player frustrations with Skiles have always come from his lack of communication about their role, needs, and general feedback for improvement, should they get thrown in the doghouse or struggle (a la Ersan Ilyasova).
And therein lies the biggest (perceived) change between a Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan regime. In his introductory press conference, Boylan stressed player communication as essential moving forward:
"I think you have to really stay on top of each player individually. You have to reach out, communicate, listen, respect. These guys are good, talented basketball players. A lot of them have good ideas, and I think trying to work together with a common goal in mind is a healthy thing. If guys have ideas I want to hear them, but ultimately I'm the head coach, I make the decisions and players understanding that."
And later, while addressing whether he was prepared to be a disciplinarian:
"I think if you can keep the lines of communication open with the players. They understand, they see, they know what you want. I've seen plenty coaches who are really hard on their players, and players love it. That's my intention is to coach these guys and get the most out of them. If that means being heavy sometimes, that's what that means."
Whether or not those comments were intentional ways to distance himself from Skiles' reputation, we'll never know. What we do know is that Boylan is acting like he understands why players have grown frustrated, and talking like he's taking a non-Skiles-ian approach to NBA coach-player relations.
For now, it's hard to view that as a bad thing.