Did the Celtics Almost Hire Larry Brown Instead of Rick Pitino?

May 11, 1997

For the Celtics, the result could not have been better. For some of the parties involved, the process could not have been more circuitous.

That Rick Pitino was secured as the coach and architect of this reconstruction is all that most anyone will - or probably should - care about. But it's interesting to understand how the Celtics got to this point, considering there were times during the process that Pitino appeared a lock to remain at the University of Kentucky.

Specifically, there is the question of how Pitino took the job on May 6 when Larry Brown was told he was the Celtics' No.1 choice on April 26. At the latter time, owner Paul Gaston was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles to meet with Brown two days later. The strong assumption was that Brown would essentially be the Celtic coach by Monday night.

According to Larry Bird, however, Pitino got himself back into the picture at that point.

"When Rick saw that someone else was ready to get the job, I think he started thinking about it more," Bird told the Herald last week. "All of a sudden, Paul was talking to him again."

Pitino dismissed that scenario yesterday, saying the Celtic interest in Brown simply tightened the time frame for a decision.

The issue of when the Celtic job might be open again if Brown took it never entered his thought process.

"I've always wanted to come to Boston to live," Pitino said yesterday morning before heading back to Kentucky to clean out his office and put his house on the market. "It was never really so much that I wanted to come to Boston to coach the Celtics. The Celtic part is something that came through talking to Dave Gavitt and then Paul."

Thus, while the Celtics had Pitino first on their wish list, this is a spot Pitino wanted as well.

In effect, Rick Pitino is here because he very much wants to be.

This bears no resemblance to the relative hired gun status of Bill Parcells when he left the TV booth to resurrect the Patriots in 1993.

Sure, Pitino came in with his own guns blazing, but if he has his way in the years to come, this will be his final stop.

That issue was important to the Celtics. One of the reasons the club didn't pursue Pitino last summer when Bird suggested they make a run at him was because of ownership's uncertainty with Pitino's staying power.

According to one high-level league source, the Celtics said they feared Pitino would come in, accept a huge financial package, turn the franchise upside down, and then, if things didn't work out quickly, go back to a college job and leave behind a bombed-out club.

While this view rather absurdly overlooked the fact Pitino has rebuilt remarkably well at all his other stops, it also ne-glects the fact that Boston is a place he wants to settle.

That the current Celtics are in such a low position likely even helped sway Pitino to come. There is nothing to lose; there is so much to gain. Though Pitino had said often he didn't think he could come to a situation where he'd have to lose so many games right away, the blank canvas proved to be quite enticing.

"I just started thinking that if you're going to build something, you might as well build from the ground up," Pitino said. "The team needed a lot of work, the practice facilities have to get better - so many things have to be accomplished.

"The more things that had to be rebuilt - the lower things were - the more intriguing it became to me. Everything has to start new here. Everything, except for the FleetCenter, can be improved. I don't know if six years down the road I'd be up to this, but it was the right thing to do now."

And the fact he came from off the pace to take the job, he said, had more to do with Gaston's need to get a Larry Brown if Pitino weren't interested in the position. Gaston knew Brown was being courted heavily by Philadelphia, though Boston was his first choice.

"I thought I was going to have a longer timetable," Pitino said. "But Paul told me, 'I can't wait. I have to speak to Larry Brown. I need to know a lot sooner. You've got to think about it quickly.'

"So I thought about it and realized it was a challenge I wanted to take on."

Though the process may have been a bit hard on Brown, the fact it forced Pitino to leave a great situation and come to the town where he has long wanted to reside again should earn the 76ers' new coach a standing ovation at the FleetCenter next season.


FLCeltsFan said...

The Celtics should have gone after Larry Bird rather than either Pitino or Brown. I'm so glad that we have Wyc and co as owners instead of "Thanks Dad"

Lex said...

I wonder how quickly bird would have turned things around?

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