Rick Pitino resigned as president and coach of the Boston Celtics yesterday after a 31/2-season, failed effort at turning around one of the NBA's most fabled franchises.
Pitino, 48, forfeited about $27 million for the remaining 61/2 years on the $50 million contract he signed with the Celtics in 1997, a year after leading Kentucky to the 1996 NCAA title.
"There is no buyout . . . [or] severance package," said Richard Pond, the Celtics' chief financial officer, in Monday's editions of the Boston Globe.
"It has been a great privilege to coach the greatest basketball tradition in sports," Pitino said in a statement released by the team. "I wish we could have accomplished more between the lines, but I am proud with the efforts of my staff and players. We will always be Celtics fans and hope that Paul Gaston gets what he deserves as an owner, another championship banner."
The Celtics, who have won 16 NBA titles, were 12-22 entering last night's game against Portland and could be on their way to an eighth straight losing season. Pitino's record with the team was 102-146.
Pitino said he would rest for a couple of weeks in Florida with his family and decide his future. He reportedly has not been contacted by another NBA team or college program. Two high-profile colleges, Indiana and UNLV, have interim coaches, and at least two others -- UCLA and Michigan -- are expected to have openings at season's end. Pitino has said he might take another NBA job but wants to finish his career as a college coach.
Jim O'Brien, a former University of Maryland assistant (1976-77) who has coached more than 500 games as an assistant to Pitino, was named interim coach.
Possible successors include former Celtics great Larry Bird, who has expressed an interest in forming a group to buy the publicly traded franchise. Bird coached the Indiana Pacers for three seasons, taking them to the NBA Finals last year before stepping down. He could also return to the team as president or general manager.
Other possibilities include St. John's Coach Mike Jarvis, a Boston native and former George Washington coach whom the Washington Wizards failed to lure last season, and former Celtics player Paul Silas, the Charlotte Hornets' coach.
Pitino's arrival in 1997 was heralded as the beginning of the franchise's turnaround. The Celtics finished the 1996-97 season 15-67, the worst record in the league, and had two lottery picks in the 1997 draft.
Pitino coveted Tim Duncan (subsequently drafted No. 1 overall by San Antonio, which won the 1999 NBA title with Duncan as playoff MVP) and Keith Van Horn (picked second overall by Philadelphia and immediately traded to New Jersey). Instead, the Celtics wound up with Chauncey Billups (No. 3) and Ron Mercer (No. 6); both have since been traded. Pitino later said if he knew how the lottery would have turned out, he would not have taken the job.
"Rick Pitino is one of the best coaching minds in the business, but you need some serendipity, you need some luck," said Ed Tapscott, an executive with the New York Knicks for nine seasons and now a consultant with the Milwaukee Bucks. "There's an old adage about it's better being lucky than good; in the NBA, you need to be lucky and good."
Said Wizards assistant Johnny Bach: "With the lottery system, losing isn't rewarded. It has to be the right year and the Ping-Pong balls have to come up right. There are a lot of perils. It's beautiful if everything bounces right, but there are a lot of things that can come along to take that away from that."
Pitino's resignation was seen as good news by investors. The stock of Boston Celtics LP closed at 8.625 yesterday, a gain of 11.3 percent.
Staff writer Steve Wyche contributed to this report.