By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
A few weeks after Gary Williams took over as head basketball coach at American in 1978, a young law student walked into his office, rattled off his résumé and asked, "Do you need some help on your staff?"
Williams talked to Ed Tapscott a little bit more, and found out he was a Washington native who played for Tom Penders at Tufts University, had his master's degree and a pretty good basketball I.Q. Williams recalls saying, "Sure."
"You know, you couldn't be choosy," Williams, now Maryland's head coach, said yesterday, a few hours after Tapscott was tapped to replace Eddie Jordan as interim coach of the Washington Wizards. "No offense, but we had no money. It wasn't like I could go out and hire whoever I wanted to hire as the assistant coach, so I really got lucky 'cause Ed turned out to be very good, obviously."
Tapscott would serve as Williams's assistant until he replaced him as head coach after Williams left for Boston College in 1982. He guided American until 1990, winning 119 games, the second-most in school history, before a chance meeting with Ernie Grunfeld -- now the Wizards' president -- got him started on a career as an NBA front-office executive. Most notably, Tapscott served as chief operating officer with the Charlotte Bobcats from 2003 to 2006, building up that franchise from expansion, and he joined the Wizards last season as director of player development.
When Tapscott, 57, woke up yesterday morning, he "had no idea" that he would wind up running his first practice as an NBA head coach. Grunfeld considered promoting assistant Randy Ayers, but elected to go with his familiarity with Tapscott.
"I've known Ed for a long time and I've known Randy for a long time," Grunfeld said in a news conference. "I feel that Ed has good communication skills, good leadership skills and I feel that he understands the game from a lot of different levels. He's been a broadcaster, he's been a head coach in college, he's been assistant coach here with us, so he sees the game from a lot of different views."
Grunfeld and Tapscott met at a 1991 NCAA tournament game in Charlotte. Tapscott, then a player agent from Washington, had a seat next to Grunfeld, then a front-office executive and scout for the New York Knicks. The two spoke for several hours, Tapscott once recalled, and even went out for a burger at a local restaurant after the game to talk more basketball.
Five months later, Grunfeld became general manager of the Knicks and he hired Tapscott to be the vice president of player personnel and basketball operations. Tapscott went on to become interim president and general manager of the Knicks after Grunfeld was fired in 1999. Tapscott also served as a consultant for the Milwaukee Bucks -- where he was reunited with Grunfeld -- and later the Phoenix Suns, before heading to Charlotte.
Although Tapscott hasn't coached in 18 years, and has never been an NBA head coach, former Wizards and current Chicago Bulls assistant Bernie Bickerstaff said in a telephone interview that he expects Tapscott to do well. "Coaching is still like riding a bicycle," said Bickerstaff, whom Tapscott hired as the first coach and general manager of the Bobcats. "I tell you one thing, when you talk about Ed Tapscott, that guy has got one of the best basketball minds and people skills as anybody I've been around."
Tapscott said he will have "butterflies" when he coaches his first game against the Golden State Warriors tonight at Verizon Center. His emotions likely will be similar to the ones he felt more than 30 years ago, when he summoned the nerve to walk into Williams's office.
"Ed's just one of those people that people liked. He gets along with people," Williams said. "I think the best thing about Ed was he had more patience than I did. He would really think things through more analytically. Most of his decisions were based on very little emotion; it was based on fact and some research that he had done, and I always thought that was Ed's strength."
Staff writer Steve Yanda contributed to this report.