Pitino Resigns as Celtics Coach

ByJimmy Golen

W A L T H A M, Mass., Jan 8, 2001 -- Rick Pitino resigned as coach of the BostonCeltics today, unable to restore the NBA’s most successfulfranchise to its former glory. His assistant, Jim O’Brien, wasnamed interim head coach.

The Celtics confirmed the decision today.

“I would like to thank Rick for his dedication and effort overthe last three plus seasons. I have greatly enjoyed ourrelationship 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 basketballtradition in sports,” Pitino said in a statement released todayby the team. “I wish we could have accomplished more between thelines, but I am proud with the efforts of my staff and players.”

Pitino said he would spend the next few weeks with his familyconsidering his future in basketball.

O’Brien started his new job by leading practice on Sunday, whenPitino said he was taking the day off to mull his options. Pitinotold owner Gaston that he was through, and he reportedly gaveup the remaining 6½ years and $27 million on his contract to becoach and president.

The Celtics were to play the Portland Trail Blazers at theFleetCenter tonight.

‘It’s Heartbreaking to Me’

Pitino had hinted since the end of last season that he wouldleave if the team did not improve this season, his fourth as coachand president. But the tone of his comments became more immediateas the Celtics stumbled to a 12-22 record, leaving Pitino 102-146overall.

Pitino said in November he would meet with Gaston in mid-Januaryto discuss the team. If there wasn’t any progress, Pitino promisedto finish the season and then leave.

On Saturday night, though, it became clear Pitino had changedhis mind. He hugged Paul Pierce as he came out of the game, andspoke afterward as if his mind were made up. Newspaper reports saidhe would step down as early as Sunday.

“Sometimes change is good just for the sake of change whenthings 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 camehere. 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 thisorganization.”

One Troubled Team Pitino Could Not Revive

Pitino took the day off from practice on Sunday and asked hiswife to come down to Miami so they could discuss his next move. Awoman who answered the phone at Gaston’s home said he would not be available for comment. O’Brien did not speak to the media afterSunday’s practice.

Pitino came to Boston with a reputation for turning aroundtroubled teams, and the Celtics were indeed troubled: Their 16 NBAtitles is a record, but their 14-year drought without one is theirlongest.

The team went 15-67 the year before he arrived, earning the mostchances in the draft lottery for Wake Forest star Tim Duncan.Pitino promised fans he would have Boston back in the playoffs inthree years.

But the Celtics didn’t get Duncan. San Antonio did, and he ledthe Spurs to the NBA title in 1999. Instead of Duncan and Keith VanHorn, who was also coveted by Pitino, the Celtics got ChaunceyBillups and Ron Mercer; both have since been traded.

Pitino has since said he would never have taken the job if he’dknown how the lottery would turn out. Last March, he said he wouldleave if the team didn’t make the playoffs, giving up what’s lefton his reported 10-year, $50 million contract if the Celtics don’tmake the postseason this year.

“All I would be doing if I stayed at that point is trying totake Paul Gaston’s money,” he said. “If I don’t see a major difference in our ball club and we’re still struggling, I thinkenough’s enough. What I will do is just go on and try my next joband wish everybody well.”

Not at the Top of His Game

The Celtics have lost 11 of their last 14 games, allowing 100 ormore points in nine of those games. This would be an unprecedentedeighth consecutive losing season for a franchise that had neverbefore gone more than four years in a row without a winning record.

“There’s a lot of pressure when you put on a Boston Celticsuniform, or when you get the title of head coach of the Celtics.There’s a lot of pressure in that job,” Pierce said Sunday. “We really haven’t fulfilled the expectations put on us.

“I just want him to make the decision that’s going to make himhappy. … I don’t know how happy he was lately.”

Pitino played at UMass and coached at Boston University andProvidence, two programs he took from mediocrity to the NCAAtournament. He spent two seasons with the New York Knicks, takingthem to the playoffs in 1989 for the first time in four years.

Then he took over a Kentucky team that had been on probation,leading it to the Final Four three times in eight seasons, winningthe NCAA title in 1996. Before joining the Celtics, he had just twolosing seasons in 17 years.

Antoine Walker, who also played for Pitino at Kentucky, said hestill hoped the team could turn things around with its currentpersonnel.

“Right now, I would prefer not going through an adjustment,”he said. “But you have to respect and understand what he’s going through. If he’s not going to be at the top of his profession, thenobviously he needs to move on.”

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