Pitino is primed for Celtics

May 6, 1997

Rick Pitino is on his way. Soon, possibly even today, he will be officially anointed the new basketball authority in Boston, courtesy of a 10-year, $ 70 million contract as coach and director of operations for the Celtics.

And while he may not be the new boss yet, his arrival already is being felt in the organization.

Celtics president Red Auerbach confirmed that Pitino was coming aboard last night. At first it was thought that Pitino's title would be president and head coach, the same titles given to Miami's Pat Riley. But when asked if Pitino was going to take his title, Auerbach said, "That's not true. He is not going to be the president of the Celtics. I am the president of the Celtics and, to my knowledge, I am not going anywhere. He is going to be coach and something else."

Auerbach's comments were one of many signs that a volcanic change was under way in the organization. M.L. Carr, soon to be removed from the basketball picture, yesterday started the process of notifying his assistant coaches that they should be prepared to look elsewhere. In addition, it was learned that general manager Jan Volk, a fixture in the organization for more than 25 years, is likely to be a casualty. Reached last night, Volk did not want to comment other than to say, "I expect to be there" at the office today.

If Volk is gone, he has company. Yesterday around 5 p.m., Celtics' chief financial officer Richard Pond fired longtime public relations employee Dave Zuccaro as well as Wayne Lebeaux, the director of travel and team services.

"They told me a new regime was coming in and that they were going to clean house," said Lebeaux, who had been with the Celtics since 1979, starting as a ballboy.

Zuccaro, who has been with the Celtics for 13 years and was responsible for publications, added, "They told me that the decision was made by upper management. I'm not going to be bitter about this. You won't find a person who loves the Boston Celtics more than me."

Two other individuals in the marketing department also were terminated. One Celtic employee said he thought yesterday's dismissals "are only the tip of the iceberg," and changes are expected not only in the front office. Some players from the 1996-97 Celtics are bound not to be retained, as a new coach will want to rebuild with players of his own choice.

There will be a new coaching staff. Pitino is expected to bring along longtime assistant coach Jim O'Brien, possibly making him one of the highest-paid, if not the highest-paid, assistant coach in the league.

Where this leaves Larry Bird is still unclear. Yesterday, he was still in Florida mulling an offer from the Indiana Pacers to be their head coach, part-owner, and eventual director of basketball operations. Bird and Indiana president Donnie Walsh spoke yesterday and one Indiana source indicated an announcement could come as soon as tomorrow. Another source familiar with the negotiations said there was nothing he saw to unravel the Indiana deal, but the Pacers are still somewhat concerned that Bird may leave them at the altar.

During his book tour last month, Pitino said he wanted Bird to be a part of anything he did in Boston, but the economics simply may not make sense. Bird is being offered $ 4.5 million to coach in addition to his ownership share in the Pacers.

As for Carr, his future outside the basketball domain is uncertain. One source has indicated Carr may have a contractual right to buy into the team, and he has spoken constantly about his close relationship with chairman of the board Paul Gaston. When told two weeks ago that the Globe was going to write that he would surrender both his basketball positions and possibly move into ownership, Carr smiled and said, "That's premature."

While the initial phase of bloodletting was going on in Boston, Pitino was in Atlanta, signing copies of his new book, "Success is a Choice." He said during an impromptu news conference that he still hadn't made up his mind and that he will tell Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton of his decision today.

"If I don't take this opportunity now, I've decided to be a college coach forever," Pitino said. "If I go to Boston, it'll be the greatest opportunity afforded to a coach."

However, Pitino said part-ownership in the team, widely thought to be one of the lures, is not something he wants.

"The offer is no ownership at all," he said. "The Celtics are a public company and you don't want part-ownership in a public company. I just want to be a coach, not an owner. Ownership opens up the possibility of taxes and lawsuits and I already pay enough taxes."

When Pitino leaves Kentucky, expect Nets coach John Calipari to make sure his name is in the mix for the Wildcats. He may even want the job. However, a source in New Jersey said last night he felt Calipari would not take the job because the money wasn't as good and that it would be difficult to match Pitino's accomplishments with the returning cast of players. Georgia coach Tubby Smith and Portland's P.J. Carlesimo are also considered candidates.

Pitino said he planned to return to Kentucky for today's meeting with Newton, at which time he also will notify his players of his decision. He also said he was returning home because his daughter was going to have her tonsils removed.

He said he would not try to leverage Kentucky into giving him more money, although he has said he would seek an extension if he decided to stay. Newton concurred, adding, "He has never done that and he won't do that. Rick has never tried to take advantage of his situation at the expense of Kentucky."

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