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Tuesday, January 9, 2001
Pitino loses reported $27M with decision

BOSTON -- Rick Pitino resigned as coach and president of the Boston Celtics on Monday, unable to restore the NBA's most successful franchise to its former glory.

Assistant coach Jim O'Brien was hired as interim head coach. The Celtics lost their first game under him Monday, 98-90 to Portland. O'Brien was given a generous ovation when he was introduced before the game.

Rick Pitino
Rick Pitino watched the Celtics get blown out Saturday in Miami.

"It has been a great privilege to coach the greatest basketball tradition in sports," Pitino said in a statement released 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."

Team owner Paul Gaston lauded Pitino for his dedication.

"I have greatly enjoyed our relationship and consider his work ethic to be without equal," he said.

Pitino said he would spent the next few weeks with his family considering his future.

Pitino told ESPN's David Aldridge on Sunday that he would like to stay in pro basketball but would likely return to the college game to finish his career. Pitino indicated that no schools or NBA teams have contacted him.

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 Gaston that he was through, and he reportedly gave up the remaining 6½ years and $27 million on his contract.

"He's a guy I have been with a long time," O'Brien said after Monday's shootaround. "It did not end the way we had come into the franchise hoping it would.

"There's nobody more disappointed with Rick leaving than I am. That being said, you don't have too much time in the NBA to get too up or too down. We have to get on with life. Rick wants us to get on with life."

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.

Pitino in the pros
Year Team Record
1987-88 Knicks 38-44
1988-89 Knicks 52-30
1997-98 Celtics 36-46
1998-99 Celtics 19-31
1999-00 Celtics 35-47
2000-01 Celtics 12-22
Totals 6 yrs. 192-220

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."

Pitino skipped practice Sunday and had asked his wife to join him in Miami to discuss his next move.

"He looked at it more personally. He's not getting the job done as a coach and he wanted to move on," said Celtics forward Antoine Walker, who also played for Pitino at Kentucky. "He's made a decision that's best for him and now he's got to move on."

In an interview from Florida, Pitino told WBZ-TV that he had a "major difference" philosophically: "The fundamentals of basketball weren't necessarily getting through to the team."

"I love the guys on this basketball team outside the line," Pitino said. "Between the lines we had differences."

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.

Pitino has since said he would never have taken the job if he'd known how the lottery would turn out. Last March, he said he would leave if the team didn't make the playoffs, giving up what's left on his reported 10-year, $50 million contract if the Celtics don't make the postseason this year.

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

The Celtics have lost 11 of their last 14 games, allowing 100 or more points in nine of those games. This would be an unprecedented eighth consecutive losing season for a franchise that had never before gone more than four years in a row without a winning record.

"There's a lot of pressure when you put on a Boston Celtics uniform, 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 him happy. ... I don't know how happy he was lately."

Pitino played at Massachusetts and coached at Boston University and Providence, two programs he took from mediocrity to the NCAA tournament. He spent two seasons with the New York Knicks, taking them 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, winning the NCAA title in 1996. Before joining the Celtics, he had just two losing seasons in 17 years.

Walker said he still hoped the team could turn things around with its current personnel.

"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, then obviously he needs to move on."

O'Brien said he would retain the swarming defense that seemed to be Pitino's undoing. But where Pitino was constantly shouting instructions to the players, O'Brien said he expects the players to take more responsibility for making the system work.

"They understand why he left," O'Brien said. "I think the players understand that in order to make the playoffs, which they want to do in the worst way, they have to change. I'm not going to make them change. I'm just going to prepare them."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Denberg: Coaches report card so far

Dr. Jack: Celtics need to dump the full-court press

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Katz: Pitino has plenty of options

May: Dear Rick, it's time for you to go

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