Work never stopped when McMillan and Williams were together

Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said Monty Williams’ life is about to completely change.

While Williams spent five seasons serving as an assistant coach for the Blazers from 2005-10, McMillan said the expectations, private and public demands, and overall pressure Williams will now face as head coach of the New Orleans Hornets is a whole new world.

It is a world that McMillan respects, values and loves. But one that is also highly unpredictable, often volatile and always changing.

“It’s not an easy job,” McMillan said.

To McMillan, public expectations and internal pressure are just part of an equation that make being an NBA head coach one of the most demanding positions in sports. There are also side effects — namely the fact that for a head coach to survive and prosper in the league, they must be willing to devote as much of their lives as possible to the profession. And while the scenario may sound ideal to basketball purists and hardcore roundball fans, it is one that often leaves little time for those involved to share the simple and good things in life with friends and family.

McMillan is married with two children. Williams is married with four children, and a fifth on the way. Both coaches have been forced to make major sacrifices in their personal lives to propel their professional lives. And in the 24-7-365 world of modern professional sports, the requests and requirements seldom ever stop, and breathing room is sometimes not an option.

“Family is important. We talked about that all the time,” McMillan said. “But once you become a head coach, you lose time with your family. That’s a known fact. The time that you have to give is part of it. And it’s different than being an assistant, in that sense. There are sacrifices that you have to make.”

McMillan went so far as to predict that Williams’ wife, Ingrid, will soon want New Orleans’ just-named coach to set aside days filled with non-basketball time. But any free moments will not be easy to part with, and Williams will likely soon feel the need to dedicate every available minute to his new team and the development of its players.

“She’s going to allow him to give as much time as he can to that team,” McMillan said. “But at the same time, she’s going to want and expect him to give time to the kids. And that’s a tough thing to balance. It really is.”

McMillan acknowledged, though, that Williams is a different breed. His professionalism and devotion to the game are what separated him from eight other candidates, allowing him to make a late charge in winning the Hornets job. Moreover, Williams’ combination of youth, intelligence and levelheadedness set him apart from most basketball-first coaches.

“He’s a great individual and a great human being,” Blazers president Larry Miller said.

Williams cited his church group and his love of the regional community as being two of the main reasons he eventually came to cherish his time in Portland. And the same coach who had no problem challenging out-of-step Blazers is the same coach who went out of his way to step up for McMillan whenever the moment called.

Williams, who spent nine seasons playing in the NBA, compared McMillan’s plight to that of Patrick Ewing, the former New York Knick center who was a teammate of Williams’ in 1994-95. Williams said both are “incredibly cool” people, and both are widely misunderstood.

“It bothered me when I heard some of the things I heard about Nate,” said Williams, 38, who became the youngest head coach in the league when he took the Hornets job Tuesday. “I’ve gotten into arguments with people who have had smart comments. And even some of (the Blazers), who have gotten a little out of line when they’ve had something to say about Nate.”

Williams acknowledged that he was just as guilty when he first joined the Blazers, failing to grasp that McMillan’s steely demeanor is based out of tough love, not anger.

Soon though, McMillan and Williams were racing to outwork each other, turning around a once-struggling Portland franchise in the process.

And while Williams has moved on, McMillan’s endeavour continues.

“Nate is working around the clock,” Williams said. “His sole purpose is to help Brandon (Roy) reach three or four more All-Star games and maybe get an MVP; to get (LaMarcus Aldridge) an MVP; and to get Greg (Oden) rolling. And Nate feels the same way about the guy who is on the injured list.”

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