Auerbach loses title of president

May 8, 1997

The dismantling of the Boston Celtics continued yesterday with franchise icon Red Auerbach surrendering his title as president, more dismissals in the basketball department, the reassignment of former hoop honcho M.L. Carr, the likely departure of Larry Bird, and the impending arrival of the man who made it all possible: Rick Pitino.

The new head coach and president of the Celtics, whose reported $ 68-million, 10-year deal is the most lucrative by far among NBA coaches, will hold his first news conference this afternoon at the FleetCenter, the only building in Boston big enough for the occasion. Even before he announced he had accepted the job of rebuilding the team, however, Pitino had initiated his plan to reshape the front office, a plan still in progress.

The results have been startling: The Celtics of 1997-98 will be a completely different organization from last season, with every household name of the 1970s and 1980s - and some who were known only to close observers - either gone or demoted. Auerbach will remain on the masthead, the sole survivor, but it was clear that even he will no longer retain whatever clout he may have had. This is Pitino's show.

"You don't pay any attention to what happened yesterday," Pitino said yesterday before leaving Lexington, Ky., where his announcement Tuesday ended his eight-year run as University of Kentucky coach, highlighted by a national championship in 1996 and a trip to the national final in 1997. "You wipe the slate clean."

He has done that. Yesterday the purge on Merrimac Street continued. Head scout Rick Weitzman, who has been evaluating prospective professionals for the Celtics since 1988, was terminated in the morning. Jon Jennings, a former assistant coach and scout and most recently director of basketball development, also was let go. Both were informed of their dismissals by Richard Pond, the Celtics' chief financial officer. Jennings and Weitzman were the primary college scouts for the Celtics.

"I was prepared for it," said Weitzman. "Hopefully, I'll be able to find something in the league. But I've also worked outside the league, too."

Weitzman and Jennings were the last two basketball-related employees to be ousted. Overall, 10 people who were involved in the Celtics' basketball operation have been dismissed from their previous jobs, including the entire coaching staff, the travel coordinator, and longtime general manager Jan Volk. Of the 10, Carr is the only one who has remained with the team.

The Globe reported April 21 that Carr would surrender both of his basketball jobs (coach and vice president of operations) while still keeping a role in the organization, possibly in ownership. Late yesterday, the Celtics announced that Carr would have a new title: executive vice president for corporate development. He will have no dealings with the basketball operation.

"I'm very proud of M.L. and how he has handled himself the past few years in some very difficult situations," chairman of the board Paul Gaston said.

Auerbach, who Monday night was adamant that he would retain his title as president of the Celtics, will instead be given a new title. In reality, the shift is more symbolic and ceremonial; Auerbach was a president in title only for the last several years and was not, as most NBA presidents are, involved in the day-to-day operations of the team. Pitino will be given that title, in addition to that of coach, thus making him the Boston equivalent of Pat Riley, who holds the same titles in Miami. Under terms of the deal, Pitino will coach for the first six years and remain as president for the final four.

Auerbach, who will be in Boston for today's press conference, said he isn't overly concerned about titles.

"I don't know, Paul and I are going to decide that" today, Auerbach said when reached at his home in Washington last night. "It's all according to what happens. Maybe I'll get a promotion. I might be like a vice chairman of the board or something like that. Who knows? We'll talk about it."

The 79-year-old Celtic legend applauded the appointment of Pitino.

"You couldn't ask for anything better," said Auerbach. "In Pitino, you got a young guy who's a great motivator, knows the game, a workaholic, and he's a winner. What more can you ask?"

The Bird situation, meanwhile, was still technically in limbo, although sources have told the Globe that he has accepted the offer to coach the Indiana Pacers and is simply waiting for the Celtics to have their show today. Yesterday Indiana president Donnie Walsh denied that any agreement was in place, saying, "Everything is still on hold." However, sources have said Bird - the Celtics' legendary ex-player who, as special assistant, initiated the team's contact with Pitino - has given his word to Walsh that he will come. The offer is to coach the team at a salary of about $ 4.5 million, part ownership, and a front office job down the road.

"I haven't talked to Larry in about a week and don't know what the hell he's going to do," said Auerbach. "I can't understand why he wants to coach. These guys take coaching like it's nothing. Well, it's a 15-hour day and travel and responsibility and aggravation and emotional ups and downs. Holy God almighty, what would he want that for?"

Bird could not be reached for comment last night.

Pitino said yesterday he intends to hire a general manager and publicly, at least, is still making a pitch for Bird. But with Bird's decision apparently already made, it appears that this is simply a case of mutual stroking. Gaston said Bird could work "under Pitino" if he so chose.

The new man in charge, meanwhile, will discuss these and other basketball issues this afternoon. Yesterday, while still in Kentucky, Pitino mentioned that he's already hired Boston amateur basketball guru Leo Papile to scout the Continental Basketball Association and Europe.

He already knows his new team well enough to recognize its most dramatic need: a big man. He likes Tim Duncan. He loves Raef Lafrentz, who has said he is staying at Kansas. He also said he needed a point guard, which could mean a change of address for David Wesley.

In the meantime, the franchise name hasn't changed. That's about the only constant in the last 72 hours. The Boston Celtics have undergone a dramatic and swift transformation. They will be much different on and off the court next year and, possibly, for years to come.


FLCeltsFan said...

One of the most depressing titles I've seen in a long time.

Lex said...

I was a pitino supporter at the beginning, but certainly was not thrilled about this

FLCeltsFan said...

I never liked Pitino. He just always has looked shifty to me. Maybe it's the Pat Riley hairdo or something but I've never liked him.

Lex said...


I supported him initially

I never liked jimmy rodgers

FLCeltsFan said...

I never liked Jimmy Rodgers either. He always seemed a bit weak to be a head coach.

FLCeltsFan said...

I did like Obie though.

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