MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Bucks fired coach Terry Stotts on Wednesday and moved quickly to hire a replacement.
Bucks assistant coach Larry Krystkowiak will take over for Stotts, who spent less than two full seasons with the team. Milwaukee is last in the Central Division at 23-41 and among the NBA's worst defensive teams.
"Terry has done the best he could in a difficult situation, especially with all of our injuries," general manager Larry Harris said. "I felt it was in the best interest of our organization to make the decision now and move forward, rather than wait until the end of the regular season."
ESPN.com's Andy Katz reported that Krystkowiak met with University of Utah officials on Tuesday to discuss their head coaching vacancy. He appeared to be a front-runner for that position, but the timing of the Stotts firing changed that. The Bucks gave Krystkowiak a multi-year contract but terms were not available.
"Larry Krystkowiak brings the same competitive fire from his days as a player to his work on the sidelines and on the practice court as a coach," Harris said in a statement. "His knowledge of the game and his ability to work well with players is a tremendous asset to our organization. He also has a successful track record as a head coach in both the college ranks and the CBA. We're excited to move ahead with Larry as our new head coach."
Krystkowiak spent nine seasons in the NBA, playing with the Bucks from 1987-92. He missed the 90-91 season after suffering a horrific knee injury in the playoffs the season before. He cemented his status as a fan favorite by pumping his fist as he was wheeled off the court.
Krystkowiak was hired as a Milwaukee assistant in June 2006 after coaching his alma mater, the University of Montana, for two years. The Grizzlies went to the NCAA Tournament both seasons.
"I'm extremely excited to have been given the chance to lead and develop such a young and talented team," Krystkowiak said in the statement. "I want to thank Senator Kohl and Larry Harris for this terrific opportunity. Becoming an NBA head coach was my number one goal when I went into coaching and I welcome the challenges that lie ahead of me. This team has a great deal of potential and I'm eager to move forward.
"I would also be remiss if I did not thank Terry Stotts for the opportunity he gave me by bringing me to Milwaukee as an assistant. He believed in my abilities and for that I'm grateful."
The Stotts move came as a surprise to Bucks players.
Stotts ran practice on Wednesday, and star Michael Redd left the team's practice facility without knowing his coach was being fired.
Redd said a member of the team's management called him later in the day.
"I'm obviously saddened by the fact that he's not going to be here anymore," Redd said. "I hate to see anyone lose their job. Terry did the best he could with what he had for our team. It just didn't work out."
At least one player apparently wasn't told at all.
"This is the first I heard about it," said Lynn Greer, a free agent acquired in the offseason. "We had practice, and Terry ran practice. I had a great time playing under him. He knew his Xs and Os. He had a tough time with the injuries, but I haven't got a bad thing to say about him."
The Bucks were racked by injuries this season and at one point in mid-January were playing without four players who were projected as starters going into the season.
Stotts hoped the Bucks would rebound when Redd returned on Feb. 20 after missing 20 games with a knee injury. Instead, their season may have hit their low point on Monday night.
In a 15-point home loss to Toronto, Bucks center Andrew Bogut made an obscene gesture toward the fans as he left the court after being ejected for committing a flagrant foul against Toronto's Chris Bosh in the final minute.
The league fined Bogut, the top pick in the 2005 draft, $25,000 earlier Wednesday.
"I want to thank Senator Kohl and Larry Harris for giving me the opportunity to coach in Milwaukee," Stotts said in a statement. "I understand this is a part of the business and I wish the Bucks organization well in the future."
Redd said he didn't know who was going to coach the team for the rest of the season but said he wouldn't mind if one of the team's assistants took over.
"You've got three candidates right now," Redd said. "We'll see what happens. I like all my coaches, so it doesn't matter."
Stotts was hired as the team's ninth coach in June 2005 after Terry Porter was let go. Stotts was a favorite of team owner Herb Kohl. The U.S. senator got to know the 13-year NBA veteran coach while Stotts was an assistant under then-Bucks coach George Karl.
Stotts compiled a 63-83 record in less than two seasons as the Bucks' head coach. Milwaukee squeaked into the playoffs last year despite having four new starters from the previous season -- the first time in NBA history a team with such extensive starting lineup changes had made the playoffs.
But Villanueva has missed significant time because of injuries, along with Redd -- who hurt a tendon in his left knee on a meaningless dunk at the end of a loss to Cleveland on Jan. 5 -- and forward Bobby Simmons, who is out for the year with foot and ankle injuries.
Mo Williams also missed time with a shoulder injury.
Milwaukee went 3-17 without Redd, its leading scorer.
"Terry did the best he could with what he had," Redd said. "[He] worked very hard, and his staff worked very hard, to prepare us. That's all you can ask for."
Redd said the team has to remain positive for the rest of the season.
"We have 18 games left," Redd said. "Just play as hard as we can at this point, put on a good show, performance, especially at home. Do the best we can do and continue to have fun while you're playing."
Redd said Milwaukee's management remains "optimistic" about the future.
"It's going to take a lot of work, you know," Redd said. "I believe in our organization."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.