After 17 seasons -- including a National Basketball Association title followed by some recent disappointments -- Bob Ferry yesterday resigned as general manager of the Washington Bullets after he and owner Abe Pollin "mutually agreed" the franchise needed new leadership.

Ferry, with Pollin and executive vice president Susan O'Malley seated nearby, made the announcement at a late afternoon news conference at Capital Centre. The move is effective immediately, and Pollin said the search for a successor will begin immediately. But Coach Wes Unseld is not a candidate, Pollin said, because Pollin intends to be "selfish and insist he {Unseld} continue as coach." Unseld could not be reached for comment.

Ferry and Pollin met for 60 to 90 minutes yesterday morning.

"We had a great conversation," said Ferry, who nonetheless said he did not start yesterday thinking he would be unemployed by sunset. "We mutually agreed that now would be the good time for the Bullets to have a new general manager. I know I've worked as hard as ever and I know my heart was always in it as hard. At the same time, some of the excitement left, some of the excitement in Abe's face. When you knew you couldn't excite him about things. When you get that feeling as a leader -- and he's the boss -- it's kind of a little empty and time to move on.

"I don't want to use the word 'resigning' -- that makes it sound like you're quitting. Abe probably wouldn't want to use the word firing -- that would be too harsh. But it's the best thing for the Bullets, for Abe Pollin and Bob Ferry, to separate the basketball ties and stay on as friends."

Pollin did not use the word "fired" but did not try to talk Ferry out of this change. Pollin thanked Ferry for allowing him to wear an NBA championship ring, garnered in 1978.

"Bob was a very important part of the team and the heart and soul of the Bullets," Pollin said. He said the mutual agreement "evolved" from yesterday's conversation, which he said was the first on the subject.

"I don't think either one of us could have said it would end this way," Pollin said of the conversation. He would not discuss specifics of the meeting.

As Ferry said, "I don't think I thought of this coming out of bed."

The Bullets missed the playoffs for the second straight season, after having qualified in 18 of the previous 20.

The Bullets beat Seattle to win the 1978 title and then lost to the SuperSonics in the finals the following season. Since then, the Bullets have missed the playoffs four times, and advanced to the second round only once in seven appearances. As mediocrity set in, Ferry increasingly came under criticisim for some of the Bullets' draft choices.

Pollin said Ferry's departure and the search for a successor is effective immediately. He said he would like to have someone named by the draft (June 27), but added that was not essential since the Bullets do not have a first-round pick (it went to Dallas in the trade for Jay Vincent).

Unseld, who did not attend the news conference, is not a candidate to succeed Ferry, according to Pollin. But Unseld's status is secure, sources said, and his authority has grown the past two years -- which may have made Ferry uneasy.

"Wes is the best coach in the NBA," Pollin said. "He is doing a fantastic job in the role we've had him in. I'll be selfish and insist he continue as coach."

Though many general managers handle numerous administrative chores, Pollin said he is very pleased with the work of O'Malley and thus, would "look for a basketball person rather than a business person. . . . We're going to look for somebody with experience in the NBA."

The Bullets were ranked 23rd of 27 teams in attendance and Ferry said some of his personnel decisions were based on pressure to bring in fans.

"The most disappointing thing -- and I don't think it was earned -- was the lack of fan support," Ferry said. Because of the empty seats and what he perceived as a money crunch, decisions were made that might not have been made if the building were full. The long and the short of it can be summed up in the drafting of 7-foot-6 Manute Bol (1985) and 5-3 Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues (1987). Neither is still on the team and neither is a starter on his present team.

"You get intimidated by the lack of {money} and you end up trying to do exciting things rather than the sound thing," Ferry said. "Money gives you freedom."

Pollin said decisions on which players to draft or trade all belonged to Ferry and he pointed to the $1 million-plus offer to Mark Price in 1988 as evidence that he was willing to spend the necessary money.

"Over the years over 90 percent of what he suggested, we went along with," Pollin said. "Money was never a problem."

Ferry spent 26 years with the franchise. He played for the then Baltimore Bullets and later was an assistant coach and scout before becoming general manager June 30, 1973.

"This was a big surprise to me," said Ferry's son, Danny, now a Cleveland Cavalier, who attended the news conference.

Ferry phoned his wife, Rita, this morning and told her the news.

"I'm still trying to sort out the feelings," said Rita, who also attended the news conference.

Pollin suggested there should not be a "shock factor" in the move because there is "not any bitterness in either one of us."

"We made a conscious effort to rebuild this team," Pollin said. "Knowing we were going to rebuild this team, it was clear to me we weren't going to win the championship. It's very difficult to rebuild and win at the same time."