Rick Pitino resigned as coach of the Boston Celtics today, unable to restore the NBA’s most successful franchise to its former glory. His assistant, Jim O’Brien, was named interim head coach.
The Celtics confirmed the decision today.
“I would like to thank Rick for his dedication and effort over the last three plus seasons. I have greatly enjoyed our relationship and consider his work ethic to be without equal,” team owner Paul Gaston said in a statement.
“It has been a great privilege to coach the greatest basketball tradition in sports,” Pitino said in a statement released today by the team. “I wish we could have accomplished more between the lines, but I am proud with the efforts of my staff and players.”
Pitino said he would spend the next few weeks with his family considering his future in basketball.
O’Brien started his new job by leading practice on Sunday, when Pitino said he was taking the day off to mull his options. Pitino told owner Gaston that he was through, and he reportedly gave up the remaining 6½ years and $27 million on his contract to be coach and president.
The Celtics were to play the Portland Trail Blazers at the FleetCenter tonight.
‘It’s Heartbreaking to Me’
Pitino had hinted since the end of last season that he would leave if the team did not improve this season, his fourth as coach and president. But the tone of his comments became more immediate as the Celtics stumbled to a 12-22 record, leaving Pitino 102-146 overall.
Pitino said in November he would meet with Gaston in mid-January to discuss the team. If there wasn’t any progress, Pitino promised to finish the season and then leave.
On Saturday night, though, it became clear Pitino had changed his mind. He hugged Paul Pierce as he came out of the game, and spoke afterward as if his mind were made up. Newspaper reports said he would step down as early as Sunday.
“Sometimes change is good just for the sake of change when things aren’t going well,” he told the Boston Herald after the 112-86 loss to Miami. “It’s heartbreaking to me, what’s happened here. I love the Boston Celtics and I’ll always be a fan.
“This organization has treated me like royalty since I came here. But you know, I’ve been going at this pretty hard now for 3½ years and I haven’t seen many results. It hurts, but life goes on and it will for the players and for the people in this organization.”
One Troubled Team Pitino Could Not Revive
Pitino took the day off from practice on Sunday and asked his wife to come down to Miami so they could discuss his next move. A woman who answered the phone at Gaston’s home said he would not be available for comment. O’Brien did not speak to the media after Sunday’s practice.
Pitino came to Boston with a reputation for turning around troubled teams, and the Celtics were indeed troubled: Their 16 NBA titles is a record, but their 14-year drought without one is their longest.
The team went 15-67 the year before he arrived, earning the most chances in the draft lottery for Wake Forest star Tim Duncan. Pitino promised fans he would have Boston back in the playoffs in three years.
But the Celtics didn’t get Duncan. San Antonio did, and he led the Spurs to the NBA title in 1999. Instead of Duncan and Keith Van Horn, who was also coveted by Pitino, the Celtics got Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer; both have since been traded.