Gene Shue has returned after seven years to coach the Washington Bullets, a team racked by injuries and internal problems last season under Dick Motta. Shue an all-American player at the University of Maryland, a standout pro and a veteran of 14 years as a head coach in the NBA, recently was interviewed by Washington Post Staff Writer Bart Barnes .
Q. -- Many people were surprised by your return. Why did you come back and why did you leave the Bullets in 1973?
A -- The Washington job was available and I considered it a very good job opportunity. My situation in San Diego was such that, even though I could have returned as the coach of the San Diego team, we just couldn't reach the terms for a new contract. As far as I was concerned with the high inflation rate, you automatically have to have certain increases in salary if you want to keep pace with what's happening, and the owner of the team felt strongly about what coaches should be paid. We had some very good, friendly meetings, but we both decided that since I couldn't get the money that I wanted, I would end my relationship there.
As far as the Washington job is concerned, they've been one of the most successful teams in the league over the years. I noticed they had some terrific problems last season with injuries particularly, and I know they have some players on the club that have been around for a number of years. The combination of those things resulted in a poor record. I believe that the Washington job is very challenging, and I've always liked the idea of having jobs that are challenging. So when it became available, with my friendship with Bob Ferry and having worked for Abe Pollin and Jerry Sachs, people who I have a lot of respect for there wasn't any doubt that if we could get together on a contract, I would really like the job. Years ago, when I coached the team in Baltimore and they were then making the changeover to the Washington area, a situation developed at the time that the Philadelphia job had again become available and they were in a position to pay me a very large contract. So again it was a matter of economics.
Q. -- Dick Motta and some others have insinuated that the Bullets are an old team without much future unless there's some kind of a major shakeup. What are your feelings about that?
A. -- Well, there is not any doubt at all that Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge, who's had a number of injury problems, are getting older. Both Elvin and Wes had very productive years. There really was absolutely no difference in thier play last season. As a matter of fact, Wes Unseld played more minutes than he had the year before. I always try to judge the person by his value, by his production. I don't agree with a lot of things that we do in society that tell us that people can't work when they're a certain age; they can't be productive. I don't believe in that system. I always think a person should be judged by whatever the person can do.
Q. -- Elvin Hayes has said he wanted to finish his career in Texas. Do you still feel that he can make a good contribution?
A. -- Elvin is from that (Texas) area, he has his home there. For a number of years, he has felt that he would like to finish his career there. The Houston team on the other hand, and there have been some conversations with them, casual conversations, have not really expressed that much of an interest in him.
But it's my intention to get Elvin to camp to see what he can do, to see if he can produce as he has in the past and see if he can help the team win. Elvin has always been a player who loves to play basketball and who plays very, very hard. Throughout his pro career, he's played the same style. Again, there was no loss in production with him at all last season, and with his overall conditioning and the way he plays, I see no reason why he can't continue to perform as he has in the past.
Q. -- Can Unseld still play a major role?
A -- Wes' style over the years has been a wining style and he's never relied on to be an offensive player. There are certain areas of the game he plays extremely well; No. 1 is rebounding and, secondly, he plays excellent over-play defense. He's a competitive player and a great winner. Going back years ago, he's had knee problems. He's been carrying around an awful lot of weight on those knees over the years, and so I don't see any reason why he shouldn't continue. I really expect him to be able to play.
Q -- Can a team that's been plagued by dissension, like the Bullets of last year, be turned around internally?
A -- That's a question I can't answer, because having not been here and really not knowing the problems of the team. I personally think that most of the problems with the club last year were the result of injuries to key players. Mitch Kupchak and Bobby Dandridge. On any team, when things aren't going right, there's always talk of players being dissatisfied and I'm certain that that could have been possible last season. But I don't think that was the major reason for the team not doing well.
Q -- Can you give some specifics of the type of offense and the type of defense you'd like to see?
A -- Through my coaching career, most of the emphasis in my coaching has always been on defense. I feel that is the only consistent part of the game which you should have night after night. Offensively, we will be looking to control the tempo of the game. When we don't have the break, we'll try to set up certain patterns that'll take advantage of the talents of the players. Basically, I always like to have an exciting team, a team that will be interesting to the players, a team that you can come out to the arena and really enjoy watching. So my philosophy would be strong defense with a good fast break and patterns when we need them.
Q -- There are many NBA people who feel the Bullets have grown slow and old. Do you feel the team has the speed to compete with the likes of Boston and Philadelphia?
A -- Well, there isn't any doubt that the club is a little slow. There's no doubt that we have players who are getting older. There isn't any doubt in my mind that the Bullets have been, over the years, the most successful pro team in the league and I think the records indicate that. The point is, you can't go for years and years and rely on the same players and then one day wake up and say, What has happened to my team? These players have been here for 10 or 12 years . . . they have performed great and so now what do we do? So at some point you're not going to see Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge.
I'm not suggesting that we're making any effort to trade any of those players. I'm only saying that at some point the career of a player is over and you can't wait too long to use the full value of the player and then have nothing. So it's my plan that these players will be with us this season, but you never know what's going to happen. The team has had a reputation for being slow . . . and maybe they are a little bit. But I think the injury factor is important and I also believe the teams in the division, the teams in the conference, the teams in the league, either by trades or by drafting, have taken giant steps forward and have imporved their ball clubs. So it could be a combination of the Bullets slowing down somewhat and the other teams improving.