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Moving on

Pitino's resignation doesn't mean an end to his career

Click here for more on this story
Posted: Monday January 08, 2001 8:08 AM
Updated: Monday January 08, 2001 11:43 PM

  Rick Pitino Rick Pitino: "Sometimes change is good just for the sake of change when things aren't going well." AP

BOSTON (AP) -- He took Boston University to the NCAA tournament, Providence to the Final Four and Kentucky all the way to the title. He helped change the New York Knicks from a lottery team to a contender.

In college and pros, from Hawaii to the Big East, Rick Pitino had never failed to win.

Until he came to Boston.

The master motivator with the magic touch resigned as head coach and president of the Boston Celtics on Monday, 3 1/2 seasons after he was brought in to revive a franchise that had once been the NBA's proudest. His legacy: a 102-146 record and a history of roster churning that left the team strapped under the salary cap and unable to find its groove.

Tarnished Legacy
Rick Pitino's professional year-by-year record
Season  Team  Record  Playoffs 
2000-01  Boston  12-22-- a  
1999-00  Boston  35-47  None 
1998-99  Boston  19-31-- b   None 
1997-98  Boston  36-46  None 
1988-89  New York  52-30  Second Round 
1987-88  New York  38-44  First Round 
Totals      192-220     
a --Resigned after 34 games
b --Lockout-shortened season

"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."

Jim O'Brien, Pitino's longtime assistant, was named interim head coach, starting with Monday night's game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the top team in the Western Conference.

O'Brien was the head coach at Wheeling Jesuit College from 1982-87 and at Dayton from 1989-94, leading the Flyers to a 22-10 record and an NCAA berth in his first season. He had been a Pitino assistant at Kentucky and with the Knicks.

"He's a guy I have been with a long time," O'Brien said after Monday's shootaround at the team's practice facility in Waltham. "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's Career Timeline
Graduates from UMass, where he still ranks seventh all-time with 329 assists. He also has the sixth-highest single-season assist total with 168. As a freshman, Pitino was a teammate of Julius Erving.

Assistant coach, University of Hawaii.

Assistant coach, Syracuse.

Head coach, Boston University. Takes team to the NCAA tournament in 1983.

Assistant coach, New York Knicks.

Head coach, Providence College. Leads team to the NCAA Final Four in second season.

Head coach, Knicks. New York improved by 14 wins in his first season and won the Atlantic Division in his second.

Head coach, University of Kentucky. The Wildcats, who were on probation when Pitino arrived, won the NCAA title in 1996 and lost in the championship game in '97. They were 219-50 overall under Pitino.

Named head coach and president, Boston Celtics. Pitino says his goal is to make the playoffs in three years. Despite having the most chances at Tim Duncan, who will be the No. 1 draft pick, Celtics lose in lottery and wind up with the third pick, plus the sixth as part of an earlier trade. Pitino picks Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer. The Celtics beat the defending champion Chicago Bulls in his first game.

Billups traded. Celtics finish Pitino's first season 36-46, a 21-win improvement. Paul Pierce drafted.

Celtics go 19-31 under Pitino in the lockout-shortened season. Pitino says he would never have never taken the job is he'd known he wouldn't get Duncan in the draft. He says he'll quit if the Celtics don't get better in 2000-01. Trades Mercer.

In the midst of his third losing season, in which the Celtics went 35-47, Pitino says the Boston fans who grew up watching Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish win championships have inflated expectations, saying, 'All the negativity that's in this town [stinks].' In November, he tells the team he will leave at the end of the season if they don't improve.

Jan. 6
Pitino tells the team he is taking a day off from the team to do some 'soul-searching' following a 112-86 loss to the Heat in Miami, the Celtics' fifth straight setback.

Jan. 7
Assistant Jim O'Brien leads practice in Waltham, Mass., while Pitino stays behind in Miami to discuss his future with his wife. Owner Paul Gaston and Pitino agree to a buyout in which Pitino eats most of the $27 million remaining on his original 10-year, $50 million contract.

Jan. 8
Pitino resigns. O'Brien named interim head coach. 

Pitino had hinted since the end of last season that he would leave if the team did not improve in his fourth season. But the tone of his comments became more immediate as the Celtics stumbled to a 12-22 record, losing 11 of their last 14 games.

On Saturday night, it became clear he had decided to leave. He hugged Paul Pierce as he came out of the game, and spoke afterward as if his mind were made up.

Pitino skipped practice Sunday and had asked his wife to join him in Miami to discuss his next move. Although he has been quoted as saying he would like to stay in the NBA, he has already been rumored for college jobs from UNLV to UCLA.

"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."

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.

The year before he arrived, the Celtics went 15-67, 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. By leaving now, he gave up more than $20 million that remained on the 10-year, $50 million contract he signed in 1997.

O'Brien said he would not abandon 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."

Related information
Pitino says he'll resign if Celtics don't improve
Report: Celtics' Pitino to resign Monday
Celtics interim head coach Jim O'Brien doesn't have time to feel sorry for Rick Pitino. (341 K)
Former Celtics head coach Rick Pitino won't deny that he regrets leaving Kentucky. (164 K)
Pitino says he simply could not get his philosophy across to his players. (129 K)
Miami Heat head coach Pat Riley feels many young players are missing out by not getting the opportunity to play for Rick Pitino. (115 K)
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