Gene Shue was named coach of the Washington Bullets yesterday replacing Dick Motta, who said he no longer wanted the job, although he had one remaining on his contract.
Motta, who coached the Bullets the last four seasons, told the team several weeks ago that he wanted to try to get a coaching job with another team and he was granted permission to do so.
He has been unsuccessful so far, but with the Bullets anxious to get the coaching situation settled, Motta and General Manager Bob Ferry ironed out an agreement earlier in the day enabling Motta to exit gracefully, opening the door for Shue.
Under the terms of the agreement, if Motta does not get a position with another team, he will serve in the Bullet front office as a special consultant to Ferry next season and collect his $105,000 salary.
This will be Shue's second go-round with the Bullets. His first head-coaching job was with the team in Baltimore, from 1966 to 1973, a period during which the club won four division championships and made it to the National Basketball Association final once.
Shue then moved on to Philadelphia and San Diego. He resigned the San Diego job three weeks ago.
He had been the leading candidate to replace Motta all along, Ferry said. "When Dick made it clear he didn't want to come back, we went after the best available coach we could get," Ferry said. "And that was Gene Shue."
Shue signed a three-year contract with the Bullets believed to be worth between $150,000 and $200,000 a season.
"Gene's history has been one of success wherever he's been," Ferry said. "He's been involved in rebuilding teams and that could be important to us in the next few seasons.
"When he was first with the Bullets he was in a situation where he had to build a last-place team into a contender and he did it rather quickely.
"He was very instrumental in drafting Earl Monroe and Wes Unseld for this team and in bringing Elvin Hayes here. He also took over a bad team in Philadelphia and brought them up. He made some big moves in San Diego, too," Ferry said.
"I think that naming Gene Shue our coach is a dramatic move in that we're getting a coach that goes out and seeks talent recognizes it and gets it," he said. "My job is just to get him the players he wants, and I think that as an organization, we'll have faith in his judgment of the players we need."
The Bullets waited as long as they could to make the move, hoping Motta would land a job, but with the league meetings beginning today in Los Angeles, a free agent tryout camp scheduled for June 2-4 and the college draft June 10, Ferry said he thought a move had to be made now.
Motta, 49, said there were no hard feelings between the Bullets and himself.
"My contract will be fulfilled and I'll get paid," he said. "There's not much more a guy can ask for. I'm pleased with the way things worked out.
"This is something I've been thinking about a long time, so I'll see how it goes. I've got time to wait and think about the future.
"I had four great years with the Washington Bullets and the Fat Lady sang. Those are all good memories," Motta said.
Shue said that he started thinking about what he wanted to do with the Bullets a long time ago, but concrete decisions will have to wait until he has a chance to see for himself what the returning players can do.
Shue said that on the surface it looks like the Bullets have the nucleus to be successful next season, "but if help is needed anywhere it looks like it's in the backcourt," he said. "That's something we'll just have to find out. I'm really looking forward to this whole thing.
"I know a lot about the personnel with the Bullets, but I've been away from them for seven years," Shue said. "It may take me a little while to get used to them again.
"My first coaching experience was with the Bullets and it was a good one, so naturally I'm pleased to be back."
When the Bullets moved to Washington, Shue decided to move on to the 76ers. "It was a meeting of the minds," he said. "I had been with the Bullets for seven years and there was an opportunity to go to Philadelphia and do some other things."
Shue describes himself as a flexible coach.
"I just don't have a set system," he said. "I feel you have to take a look at the people on the team and set your offense and defense around what they can do."
Ferry served as Shue's assistant coach in Baltimore and said he has always been impressed with Shue's coaching skills.
"He was one of the first guys to coach to the personnel," Ferry said of Shue. "By nature he's a very disciplined person, but he learned that if you have free-lance players, you tailor your offense to them. So when he was first here, the team was built around Monroe, Gus Johnson and Wes. And we were a freelance-type team. Gene became more structured the longer he stayed, though.
"Then when he went to Philadelphia he took over a team that had won only nine games the previous season. He surrounded himself with talent and he won. He always tries to get great players and adapt to them. He has always believed that ability prevails. You have to adapt yourself to the players."
Shue, 49, a star guard at the University of Maryland, played 10 years in the NBA with Detroit, Philadelphia, Fort Wayne, Baltimore and New York. He has been a coach for 14 seasons. His 526 coaching victories rank him fourth on the NBA list behind Red Auerbach, Red Holzman and Motta.
Shue first became coach of the Bullets in 1966, 26 games into the season. Two seasons later, with Unseld as the league's most valuable players and rookie of the year, Shue guided the Bullets to the Eastern Division championship. The team has made the playoffs every year since.
Shue said he hasn't decided on an assistant coach, but that Motta's assistant, Bernie Bickerstaff, would be interviewed for the job. Ferry said he had recommended Bickerstaff to Shue, "but the final decision has to be Gene's."
Bickerstaff said he was interested in talking with Shue.
Motta, meanwhile, sits and waits. He reportedly still has a shot at the Dallas and San Antonio jobs.
"I'm not worried," Motta said. "I'll get work."