January 24th, 2012. The Wizards held a press conference to announce that they were relieving Flip Saunders from his position as head coach and promoting then assistant coach Randy Wittman to head coach for the remainder of the 2011-12 season.
After a lockout-delayed start, the team had begun the 2011-12 season 2-15. Wittman took over a team that was still in the middle of a rebuild and had its work cut out for them.
The team would send away Nick Young and JaVale McGee the next month in a deal that saw them acquire Nene.
They finished that year 22-44 (20-29 under Wittman) and would land the #3 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, a pick that would end up being Bradley Beal.
After that season, the Wizards had a choice to make for their next head coach. After unanimous support from the players in their exit interviews, the team elected to stick with Wittman and handed him a two-year deal to continue the rebuild and get the team to the playoffs.
There were higher expectations heading into the 2012-13 season. But, those expectations suddenly took a drastic dive when it was learned that John Wall would miss the first half of the season with a knee injury. The team wound up opening the year 4-28 without Wall, but as bad as their record stood, there was a constant trait that prevailed even through all the losing.
The team competed.
They played hard every night, they never played the blame game, never pointed fingers in the locker room, and kept the right approach, as hard as it may have been. Most importantly, they never stopped playing for their coach.
That season said a lot about Wittman. He instilled belief in his players, something that at the time may have seemed miniscule, but may have played a role in where they ended up after this past season.
They would finish the 2012-13 season with a 29-53 record. Not a record to be proud of, but after a 4-28 start, a mark they could build on for the future.
And they would.
With a healthy John Wall and Nene in camp, expectations were again high for the 2013-14 campaign. Then the team began the year 2-7. Home losses to the Sixers and Bucks were perplexing for a team with as much talent as the Wizards and murmurs began about the coach. But, internally nobody panicked. They took the lead from their head coach, who continued to instill the belief in his team and never changed who he was.
The team rebounded and went 7-2 over their next nine and would then hover around .500 for much of the year. The team wasn't perfect, there were flaws, inconsistencies, and lapses that would prevent them from being a 50 win team.
But, then the playoffs rolled around and they found their groove. They entered the playoffs hot, winning their last four games and would continue that momentum by taking down the favored Bulls in five games in the first round.
Heading into the series, all the talk was about the greatness of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and there was very little support from the pundits in favor of Wittman.
Not that Witt needed to prove himself in this one series, but this was his playoff debut and the first time there would be so many national eyes on the Wizards since he took over.
By the end of the series, he earned a lot of respect from national media members, something he would say he could care less about. But, after years of losing, it was nice to see him garner praise from the media.
He led the Wizards to Game 6 of the second round against the top-seeded Pacers, something before the year began many would have doubted.
The team set goals before the season began to be a playoff team and they achieved those goals.
The team went from being a 7-34 team on the road in 2012-13 to a 22-19 road record this past year. There's no question coaching played a big part in that.
The head coach is always one of the easiest targets to blame when things aren't going well, but Witt has stood his ground, and now has earned the right to reap the rewards of a team on the rise.
Say what you want about Witt, but he's as straight a shooter as you'll find in this league. He's honest, straightforward, and fair. He plays the guys he thinks give the team the best chance to win on a nightly basis. He doesn't let exterior factors get in the way. No favorites. It's all about what a player does on the court.
These are just some of the reasons he once again received overwhelming support from his players when his deal was up for renewal this summer.
They again both publicly and privately made their case to bring him back, which played a big factor in this decision, as majority owner Ted Leonsis stated in the above interview.
After making the announcement today, some of the guys showed their feelings on Twitter.
Congrats to my guy Coach Randy Wittman... #WelcomeBack !! pic.twitter.com/UMV8P3oLZn
— John Wall (@John_Wall) June 3, 2014
Congrats to Coach Randy! Dinner on u!!Witt earned this extension from hard work, but there's no doubt he's satisfied with where they finished last year. Now the expectations will be even greater, the bar has been set, and turning this team into a title contender will be next on the 'to-do list' for the Wizards head coach.
— Marcin Gortat (@MGortat) June 3, 2014
Randy Wittman Addresses the Media
President Ernie Grunfeld on Wittman Extension