ML Carr Quits

May 1997

Two NBA coaching jobs opened up yesterday, and Larry Bird could have a say in who fills both.

In the wake of M.L. Carr's resignation in Boston and Larry Brown's in Indiana, Celtics special assistant Bird has an offer from the Pacers he may find impossible to reject: more than $ 4 million a year to be the head coach, a piece of the team, and the promise to take over the basketball operations job when president Donnie Walsh decides to step aside.

Attempts to reach Bird yesterday were unsuccessful. The Indiana job opened up with the resignation of Brown, and Walsh said Bird is the only person he has talked to. Bird has repeatedly stated he would like more of an active role in Boston, but he has ruled out coaching the Celtics. He also offended many people in the organization with his brutally candid assessment of the franchise in late March.

Bird's Indiana salary would make him the highest-paid coach in the NBA - until, that is, one of his choices to succeed Carr signs on the dotted line. Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, whom the Celtics are feverishly courting, will receive much more to take the NBA job he always said he wanted.

Carr, still technically the director of basketball operations, offered nothing on the search for a new coach, saying only, "We have someone we're leaning towards more than the others. We are working hard to get the right person in place."

According to a source, the Celtics are contemplating offering Pitino a staggering $ 40 million-$ 45 million over five years, along with approximately 3 percent of the team. Pitino already has turned down Golden State, which offered in the $ 8 million-a-year range. Orlando is in the same ballpark, but neither of those franchises appeals to Pitino the way Boston does.

Carr's position as director of basketball operations is also on life support if Pitino signs. The Globe has reported Carr will be financially taken care of by the Celtics, possibly even given a small share of the team.

Asked to comment on the coaching situation, Antoine Walker, who played for Pitino for two seasons at Kentucky, said, "My comment is no comment. Talk to me when we get a coach." However, Walker has confided to friends that he would seriously consider leaving Boston when his three-year contract expires if Pitino is named coach. The two did not hit it off at Lexington: Pitino sometimes felt Walker didn't work hard enough; and Walker thought Pitino didn't get close enough to his players.

Brown was another coach the Celtics considered, but he was in Philadelphia last night talking to the 76ers. Brown and the Celtics were supposed to meet earlier this week, but the meeting was postponed and has yet to be rescheduled. It is believed that the Pitino situation escalated to the point where Brown's availability became a back-burner issue. In addition, Brown's meeting was postponed shortly after the Celtics learned that Bird and Walsh were meeting in Indianapolis last weekend.

It was Bird who got the coaching ball rolling this season, contacting prospective coaches at the request of chairman of the board Paul Gaston. Pitino was on his short list, and the two chatted several times about the situation in Boston. Until yesterday, however, the Celtics technically still had a coach, even though the Globe reported 10 days ago that Carr would not return.

After team president Red Auerbach confirmed in yesterday's Globe that there would be a coaching change, the team hastily held a conference call, with Carr making it official.

"It was never my idea to be a career coach," he said. "It is time to bring in a career coach, someone who can take this team to a new level. The parts are in place."

Pitino will be that someone unless he decides he simply has to stay at Kentucky. He is intrigued by the prospect of resurrecting the Celtics, who finished the season with a 15-67 record. And his small piece of the franchise could be pegged at around $ 3.6 million, a figure that might rise with the announcement of his arrival.

Attempts to reach Pitino yesterday were unsuccessful. A secretary at the Kentucky basketball office said Pitino was out of town on "personal business" and was not expected back until next week.

For the first time, Carr mentioned four-year assistant Dennis Johnson as a possible replacement, although that is not perceived to be a realistic option. Johnson was not on Bird's list of coaches and feels he is destined to be elsewhere next season. Johnson was unavailable for comment yesterday.

In his farewell address as coach, Carr insisted that everything had gone according to plan the last two years, even though the "plan" at first did not include a 15-67 season. "I feel I've accomplished what I wanted to do," he said. "It is time to hand it over to a career coach. That always has been the plan." He said he did feel confident that the team was poised to make big strides, given the talent it has, along with two lottery picks in the upcoming NBA draft.

"We have a chance to take a quantum leap," he said. "Obviously, there is a lot to work with."

The work Carr did was appreciated by his employers and players.

"I want to thank M.L. for maintaining a positive, upbeat attitude throughout a very tough year," said Gaston in a statement. "I look forward to working with him in what promises to be an exciting new era."

"He was right in there with us," said Celtics captain Rick Fox. "He wouldn't let anybody else share the criticism. He took it all and deflected the heat from the players and the organization. He doesn't get a gold star for that, but he's a good man for doing it."

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