O'Brien, whose father-in-law is Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay, held head jobs at Wheeling Jesuit College and Dayton for eight seasons during the 1980s but has just two years of NBA experience, as an assistant to Pitino with the New York Knicks in 1987-88 and 1988-89. Yet some of the NBA's veteran assistants are applauding the deal Pitino gave O'Brien. "It's nice to have someone scream out that assistant coaches are valuable," says the Detroit Pistons' Johnny Bach, who 17 years ago made $33,000 as the lone assistant on the Golden State Warriors.
The fallout from O'Brien's windfall was almost immediate. According to sources, Dick Harter is set to sign on as Larry Bird's top assistant with the Indiana Pacers for $350,000, or $100,000 more than the average for a top NBA assistant in 1996-97. O'Brien, whose salary as an assistant to Pitino at Kentucky last season was less than $100,000, apparently owes his mammoth raise to Pitino's determination to show that Boston means business. "The Celtics have tremendous confidence in Rick Pitino," O'Brien says. "I'm just latched on to him."