Simon Cote is a professional basketball coach that started his coaching career at Southern Methodist University (NCAA). He came to Germany in 2002 and coached for Basketball Academy Rhein-Main (Germany) and Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany-2.Bundesliga). He then was an assistant coach for the Frankfurt Skyliners from 2003-2006. He then was a scout for the Denver Nuggets, had a head coaching stint with the Giessen 46ers and was an assistant for three seasons with the Shanghai Dongfang Sharks (China-CBA). He has been spending time in Germany recently and is looking to coach in Germany again. He spoke to German Hoops about basketball.
Simon, thanks for talking to German Hoops. You were at some Frankfurt Skyliner games recently. What was it like being back in Frankfurt where you were an assistant coach for four years?
It was different being back again after such a long time. I miss being back here in Frankfurt and also working with the Skyliners. I had great memories with Gordie (Herbert), Murat (Didin) and Charles (Barton.) It was great to see old friends, colleagues and fans again.
You were an assistant under Gordon Herbert back in 2004 helping the Skyliners win the Beko BBL title. When you see Frankfurt play now has anything changed and developed with the style of Gordon Herbert?
I saw two games recently against Enisey Krasnoyarsk and Bremerhaven. It reinforced my belief that Gordie is a great coach. He has coached at the highest levels of European basketball, and you can see that he is very experienced. He has done a great job coaching this young team and developing the young German players.
Gordon Herbert was the first head coach that you served for after coming out of SMU in the Beko BBL. How was he able to help you mature as a coach then?
I worked at SMU in the US for four years before coming to Germany to coach. I learned a lot from Gordie; how he deals with players, when to rest them and when to push them. Also, he is a great game strategist. Gordie is very steady. Even if his team is down 20 points, he is always in control and gives the team confidence that they can come back.
You were an assistant for the Shanghai Dongfang Sharks (China-CBA) from 2010-2013. What were you doing the last two years basketball wise?
In the last two years I visited many basketball teams and coaches from the NBA, College and Europe. It has been a great learning experience to see what other great coaches do.
More importantly, I have written a basketball handbook which includes my philosophy, strategies, plays, drills, everything… I’ve taken all the great things I’ve learned in the last 20 years of my coaching career and put it into one system. My system…
My philosophy is very simple; “Compete! Improve! Be a great teammate!” Everything in my system rests on these principles. If my team does these three things every day, we will be a great team.
It seemed like you were a bit burned out after your short stay with the Giessen 46ers. Why did you choose to go to China? Were there no coaching offers from Germany?
I didn´t pursue any coaching jobs in Germany at that time. I got an offer to coach as an assistant in China from Yao Ming’s team, the Shanghai Sharks. Usually when I have a big decision to make, I choose the bolder one… This was one of those choices. Going to China was a great life experience.
Initially, I thought I might want to coach and live there for a long time, but after three years I knew I wanted to come back to Europe. I love European basketball; the style of play and the lifestyle.
German basketball has a bright future, and I want to get back to coaching in Germany. I already know many of the coaches, players and teams at the BBL and Pro A level.
What kind of experience was it living in China for three years and being involved with the Shanghai Dongfang Sharks (China-CBA)? Did you ever regret going this route?
I never regretted going to China. I haven’t regretted any of my big life decisions. China was a great learning experience – both culturally and basketball-wise – and that experience has helped me to become the person and coach I am today.
After having coached in Germany where one sees organized play, you went to China where the CBA is dominated by scoring and ex NBA players. Did your coaching philosophy change during this time?
Basketball in China is based on the NBA style of play. The CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) is made up of lower level NBA American players and a handful of good Chinese players. The Americans are expected to do everything; score, rebound, create shots for others, etc. So the two Americans do everything and the others players stay out of the way for the most part.
Also, most of the Chinese players do not speak English, so we must communicate with translators. This lack of communication makes it difficult to communicate with players, develop relationships with them and to build a team. From those challenges I learned to communicate more efficiently and become a better teacher.
Did you have a tough adjustment period in the beginning?
I think every Westerner has difficulty adjusting to the culture in Asia in the first few months. The cultural habits, way of living and acting are so different. But this helps you learn and grow as a person.
What kind of experience was it coaching ex NBA superstar Gilbert Arena? You also coached other ex NBA players like Mike Harris and DJ White. Did these guys have egos that were impossible to shape?
Gilbert, Mike, DJ and a couple other former NBA guys played in Shanghai. I believe most great players really want to be coached, and they accept coaching. All these guys were very coachable.
One thing about coaching these guys is – they know basketball. So, as their coach, you have to know exactly WHAT you are doing and WHY you are doing it. They will ask you why you want to do something a certain way. If you don’t know the “what” and the “why” – they will know it and have doubts about your coaching abilities. If you do, they will follow you and accept your coaching.
What Gilbert Arenas story will you never forget in the time that he was there?
He was a pretty mild mannered guy, so I don’t have any crazy stories about him. He is very, very intelligent and very sociable. He loved to talk to anyone and everyone. Our Chinese players loved him. As far as basketball – he was truly an amazing shooter and reading the game was so easy for him. He was a guard, but he was a tremendously powerful player and he had unbelievably strong hands.
After leaving Frankfurt in 2006 you became a scout for the Denver Nuggets from 2006-2008. How important was this experience and how did this help you as a coach besides getting to know players worldwide better and improving your ability to scout?
As a scout I learned to view the game in a completely different way than I did as a coach. As a scout I focused on one player. It was like following him with a telescope: in the warmups, during the game on the court and even when he went to the bench. The entire game my eyes were focused on him and everything he did.
I learned a lot as a scout from all the other NBA scouts, GM’s and coaches I interacted with. And I got much better at predicting what type of player he could be in the future. I learned that besides talent, the most important piece is the player’s personality, outlook and character. This has a major impact on what kind of player he will become and how successful he will be.
Did you find any “Sleepers” for the NBA?
My first year as a scout we did not have an NBA draft pick, but I really liked Marc Gasol. He was playing in Spain for DKV Joventut. Normally, among the NBA scouts there is a big buzz about a very good player, but strangely there wasn´t much buzz about him. Still I liked him a lot and recommended him highly to the Nuggets management. The problem was he didn´t fit our fast paced style of play. He was drafted at #41 (a low pick) and is now an NBA All Star. That doesn´t happen very often. He was a real steal.
In 2008, you got your big break getting your first head coaching job with the Giessen 46ers. You were dismissed in January 2009. Was this a misunderstood working relationship between Giessen and you? Why was the club unable to perform better under your guidance?
It was a combination of things. When I took the job we had a two year plan as the team had been near the bottom the year before. The goal for the first year was simply to stay in the BBL and develop our young German players. But the combination of having inexperienced players, older players with lots of injuries and many behind the scenes problems, it was very tough to get wins.
I felt I did a good job in that our team really played together, we played hard and we played solid basketball on the court. Also, I think Heiko Schaffartzik really developed. He had a great summer with the German National Team following that season.
Looking ahead, I learned that I need to prioritize communicating with management and owners and building the relationships with them. I don’t think they really understood the situation the coaches and players were dealing with during the season and that is my responsibility as a head coach.
I remember seeing a preseason duel in Giessen against FC Barcelona in 2008. What memories do you have of that game?
That Barcelona game was one of my favorite times with Giessen. We had a packed gym and the atmosphere was great. Barcelona played all of their best players. The game was very close until about five minutes left to play in the third quarter. Barcelona ended up winning by 15 points or so, but we played great basketball for 2 ½ quarters against one of the very best teams in Europe. I was really proud of our team.
This win was a great confidence boost for our team and we had already we won a preseason tournament the week before. But in a way this game hurt us, as the expectations by the fans and management rose tremendously after the preseason. For sure, if we had had a solid working environment and healthy players in the regular season, we would have had much more success.
Do you recall that Florian Hartenstein held his own in that game?
Flo played great that game. Flo Hartenstein is one of my very favorite players. He was a great teammate that always played hard and did what the coach asked. He never tried to do anything he could not do and that is a great asset. He set great screens, played defense, hustled every play and made the extra pass.
Back then there was a young 10-year-old Isaiah Hartenstein hanging around the court waiting for his dad while now he is the best German player from the year 1998. Would you ever have thought that this kid would become such a big talent?
Actually, yes. I remember him in the gym dribbling and shooting. He was only 10, but I thought he was 15 because he was so tall, physically coordinated and skilled. When I found out he was only 10, I was pretty sure that he would be a big talent.
Do you feel like you were jinxed after the Giessen gig with getting a suitable head coaching job? Has that good offer just been missing and why? Did going to China hurt your chances?
I don’t believe in jinxes and I don´t regret going to China. It helped me develop in different ways to become a better coach. In retrospect, it would have been better to pursue that next coaching job in Germany right away because if you are away, people sometimes forget your capabilities. But it is what it is. Now I am committed to finding a coaching job in Germany, and I believe I will find a good one.
While I was in China and over the last two years I’ve grown as a coach. I have a defined basketball philosophy and I am better prepared for success now. I know I can build a winning team and a winning culture. Now, it’s up to me to communicate to a General Manager how my experience of creating a winning culture, developing players and maximizing the strengths of a team makes me better prepared to be a successful head coach.
Was there never any talks over the years to jump on to Gordon Herbert´s side as an assistant?
Gordie and I only talk or email a couple times a year. But I really enjoyed working with him. I haven’t tried to pursue working with him as he already has great assistants in Frankfurt. Right now, I’m mostly focused on a head coaching position.
What do you bring to a team as a Head Coach?
I think first and foremost, I can create a winning team and culture. I have a lot of experience developing talented players and I love seeing them improve. I also love building teams that really play together. I know how to run a team and I believe I can maximize a team’s potential by determining the best system for that team.
From a basketball perspective, I bring extensive, well–rounded experience. I’ve worked in the BBL as an assistant and a head coach as well as winning a BBL championship with Frankfurt in 2004. We also played in the Euroleague and Uleb Cup with the Skyliners, too. These experiences really helped bring me to a new level as a coach.
I’ve also worked in the NBA as a scout, so I have the perspective of how many things are done in the NBA. From my wide range of experience, my large network of scouts, agents and coaches in the US which will help me find very good American players for reasonable salaries.
Also, I have experience coaching some great German players like Alex King, Heiko Schaffartzik and others, as well as learning from former great German players like Pascal Roller.
You coached in the BBL before, at what level are you looking for a head coaching job right now?
Of course, I want to coach at the highest level possible, but what is most important to me is the ability to work with Club Management where we really work together to build a winning culture and environment. To build a team that wins year after year requires teamwork between the management and the coach. So I am open to jobs at different levels with good management.
Have you been interviewing with some teams?
The season just ended recently, but I have already talked with some teams. A lot more jobs will open up in the coming weeks, and I am optimistic that I will find a great coaching position in Germany this year.
You have coached many players in your career, but who was the most enjoyable to coach where you feel both sides profited the most?
I enjoy seeing players get better and have success. I have a lot of favorite players. Some have had great success on the court and some off the court. I really enjoyed coaching Alex King. He was always coachable and worked very hard. He obviously progressed after leaving Frankfurt, but I feel he grew and developed a lot during his time in Frankfurt. It has been fun seeing his success. I knew that he would become a good BBL player, but honestly, I did not know he would become a really good Euroleague role player.
Another is Frederick Kleemichen. He didn’t have the basketball career he or any of us dreamed of back in 2002, but I am extremely proud of him. He graduated college, is working on his Master’s Degree, has a great internship and is very happily married. He overcame a lot of obstacles to get where he is now. He is a great person and he’s on the right path. I like to think I helped him a little bit by shaping his outlook.
What goals do you still have as head coach? Could you imagine ever coaching in the United States?
I would like to coach again in the BBL and sometime in the future in the Euroleague. Of course I want to win championships in whichever league I am coaching in. I could imagine coaching in the States – in the NBA, College or D-League, but it would depend on what opportunities come up.
So you have been in Germany recently. What have you been doing?
Yes, I’m still here actually. I’ve been here for several weeks traveling around to visit my coaching and
basketball friends here in Germany as well as watch as many games as I can from the BBL, Pro A and Pro B.
What have you missed most form Germany over the years and what do you enjoy doing most here?
I have missed the great friends I made here. I also have missed the basketball lifestyle, the practices, the games, the game preparation and working with players.
What was the last DVD movie that you saw?
The last movie I saw was “Birdman.” It’s the best movie that I have seen in the few years.
Thanks for the chat, Simon.