The Philadelphia 76ers, who have lost eight of their last 10 en route to a 21-31 first-half record, fired coach Randy Ayers on Tuesday.
"Randy is a great friend, but a change was needed," 76ers
general manager Billy King said. `"Our goal is to put a team out
there that plays hard every night. ... A lot of things haven't gone
well for us. It's not fair to point the finger at one person."
Philadelphia is 1½ games behind Boston for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
The 76ers' next game is at home Wednesday against Washington.
Ayers took over in June after the resignation of Hall of Fame coach
Larry Brown, who left the team after six seasons to become coach of the Detroit Pistons.
The former head coach at Ohio State, Ayers spent six seasons as Brown's assistant.
"I'm crushed," Brown said before Detroit's game at New Jersey
on Tuesday night. "He was an assistant for me for six years and he
was wonderful. I was proud of him when he got the opportunity. You
hate to see it happen."
All but one of the Eastern Conference's 15 teams (Atlanta, with
Terry Stotts) changed coaches since the end of last season.
"You have to win at all costs," Brown said. "When they give
you a five-year plan, it's really a five-month plan."
Ayers seemingly lost control of the team. In recent weeks,
All-Star guard Allen Iverson ripped his teammates for lacking heart
and said changes had to be made. Glenn Robinson griped about his
playing time, and other players also had complaints.
"There wasn't one thing," King said. "You have to do an
overall evaluation. This was a very difficult decision. I've known
Randy personally and professionally for a long time. I still think
he's a good coach, but it just didn't work for us."
After the Sixers suffered an embarrassing 110-80 loss at home against the Celtics on Feb. 7, Ayers said he would consider changing the lineup.
But the following night, against the New Jersey Nets, the starting five remained the same: Iverson and Eric Snow at guard, Robinson and Kenny Thomas at forward, and Samuel Dalembert at center. The Sixers lost 99-87.
Dissension in the locker room, which has been growing for some time now, took a public turn for the worse in Saturday's loss to the Nets. Robinson, the team's No. 2 scorer, refused to participate in the team's huddles after he was pulled by Ayers with in the final minutes of the first half, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
After the game, Robinson complained about a lack of playing time, a comment he's made several times already this season.
"I really don't even want to talk about it," Robinson told the paper. "That's the way [Ayers] coaches, that's his style. I don't agree with it. But I said what I had to say a couple of weeks ago.
"I can't do nothing but keep playing. I don't like the way my minutes are going. I don't want to seem selfish. I don't want to make it seem like I'm just upset about myself, because I'm all about the team. I realize what I can do as far as helping this team. I just don't feel like I'm being allowed to do that sometimes."
Iverson, who leads the league in points and steals per game, lashed out at the team for a lack of heart following the team's 93-80 loss to the Raptors on Feb. 4.
"We're not playing with no heart. We're not playing with no pride. Nobody out there is taking a challenge like they should, and it's sad," Iverson told the Inquirer after the loss. "We've been a good team for six years. Then this year, we don't have a sense of urgency. We see that we're down in the standings, not in the playoffs right now, trying to fight uphill, and we're not taking the challenge."
However, the All-Star guard refused to place blame on Ayers.
"We have a lot of trust in Randy's ability," he told the paper. "We believe he can get it done. I believe in him. I know he can coach. But I mean, you can't put that on a coach. He doesn't go out there and play, not one minute of the game. He can only do so much."
All but one of the 15 Eastern Conference teams have changed
coaches since the end of last season -- and now the 76ers have done
it twice in that span.
And overall, seven of the league's 29 teams have changed coaches this season (24 percent), tying the record for the most mid-year coaching changes in one season, set in 1996-97.
The last season in which a
higher percentage of the teams changed coaches was 1972-73, when there
were only 17 NBA teams, but five of them switched in mid-year (29
Ayers was far down on King's list of candidates after Brown
stepped down. King initially tried to get permission to speak to
Portland coach Maurice Cheeks, a former 76ers star. Also, former
Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said
they weren't interested after speaking to King. Van Gundy took over
in Houston, replacing Rudy Tomjanovich.
King also interviewed former New Jersey Nets assistant Eddie
Jordan, who was hired by Washington, former Atlanta coach Mike
Fratello, Hawks then-interim coach Terry Stotts, 76ers assistant
Mike Woodson and Miami Heat assistant Bob McAdoo.
"When I hired Randy, I felt he was the best qualified coach," King said.
Ford joined the Sixers' coaching staff last summer after two
seasons as the head coach at Brandeis University. He led the Boston
Celtics to consecutive Atlantic Division titles in 1991 and 1992.
He compiled a record of 311-358 in nine seasons as head coach
with Boston (1990-95), Milwaukee (1996-98) and the Clippers
(1998-2000). His best season was his first, when the Celtics went
56-26 and reached the second round of the playoffs.
Ford won NBA championships with the Celtics as a player (1981)
and an assistant coach (1984, 1986).
He also has strong ties to the Philadelphia area. A native of Atlantic City, N.J., Ford attended Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, N.J., and went on to play at Villanova University from 1968-72, where he helped the Wildcats reach the 1971 NCAA championship game against UCLA.
Ayers went 124-108 as coach of the Buckeyes for eight years. He led Ohio State to four postseason appearances and was the AP Coach of the Year in 1991 after the Buckeyes went 27-4 and won the first of consecutive Big Ten championships.
His stay at Ohio State ended with four consecutive losing seasons and off-court troubles. As a result of 17 rules violations, the Buckeyes were put on probation by the NCAA.
Only 15 of the 33 players Ayers brought into the basketball program exhausted their eligibility. And many got into trouble with the law.
After Ayers was fired by the Buckeyes, five of his recruits were dismissed or left the program with the approval of his successor, Jim O'Brien.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.