K.C. Jones, who has earned more championship rings (12) as player and coach than any man in NBA history, has announced his resignation as head coach of the Boston Celtics, effective at the conclusion of the 1988 playoffs. He will be succeeded by Jimmy Rodgers, currently player personnel director and assistant coach.
Jones made his wishes known to team president Red Auerbach late last week. The two have been very close for three decades. Auerbach twice recommended him for professional head coaching jobs, and it is generally conceded that few former Celtics have ever been more attuned to Red's psyche than K.C.
"I started thinking about it last summer," Jones said. "I let Red know my intentions, and he just said, 'Whatever you want.' "
He will assume a front office role, and while no official title has been bestowed, general manager Jan Volk said, "It will be as a director of basketball operations. Basically, he will switch jobs with Jimmy in personnel. The only difference will be that he won't sit on the bench."
Why now? Exactly why now, right in the middle of the playoffs isn't clear, but it comes as no big shock to the Celtics family that K.C. is stepping down. "What else can I do?" Jones pointed out. "If I were ambitious, I'd coach until I was 75, but that wouldn't be me. This gives me a chance to spend more time with my family (wife Ellen and son Christopher, 5). And now Jimmy won't have to wait any longer. Our relationship is important to me."
Jones was named the Celtics' head coach following the 1982-83 season. His first team won 62 games and the NBA championship. His peak season was 1985-86, when the squad won 67 games and cruised to a 16th NBA championship. His other two Boston teams have reached the Finals.
He began his NBA coaching career with the Capital Bullets in 1973. During his three-year tenure in Washington, the Bullets won 47, 60 and 48 games and advanced to the 1975 NBA Finals. He came back to Boston as an assistant to old teammate Satch Sanders in January 1978. He served as an assistant to Dave Cowens and Bill Fitch, succeeding the latter when he resigned after a four-year stint that ended with Milwaukee's four-game playoff sweep of the Celtics in 1973.
"These five years have been fantastic," K.C. said. "It's been great to have this hayride with these players."
Jones, 55, stresses that he never intended to coach for very long when he took the job. "He said he had certain goals he wanted to accomplish," confirmed Volk, "but he said he wouldn't be coaching all that long."
Jones has a relaxed coaching style, short on yelling and long on listening. He gets on officials, but he doesn't get on his players very much, and they have responded by playing their best for him more often than not. His approach was universally viewed as a welcome change from Fitch's more abrasive style.
Unlike many of his coaching peers, he doesn't overdo the videotape routine. He has always created space for a life away from basketball.
"The proof of his approach is in the pudding," said Volk. "He's completing his fifth year. He's won two championships and gotten to the Finals two other times. We have a reasonable expectation of doing well in this year's playoffs. I don't think you can do much better than that."
Jones informed the players of his intention to move on at a practice. "I think they were shocked," he said. "Pleased and shocked. They were pleased because it was of my own volition."
The irony of the timing is that the Celtics are involved in a playoff series against the Knicks, the very team Rodgers wanted very much to coach last summer. The Celtics refused to allow him to get out of his contract without exacting a heavy penalty from New York in the form of a No. 1 draft pick. Now Rodgers is to coach the Celtics.
"Normally," said Volk, "an announcement like this would send shudders up and down the spine of Celtics fans. But there won't be any concern this time, not with Jimmy Rodgers available."
"I think K.C. did the right thing," kidded Larry Bird, "to let Jimmy have a couple of years with me before it all goes."
Now the team has the chance to give K.C. a nice going-away present in the form of a 17th championship. It could be win-one-for-K.C. time on the ballclub, which certainly won't disturb the brass.
"This is obviously not the optimum time to release the news," Volk pointed out, "but it does have some beneficial side effects."