WALTHAM -- Interim Celtics coach John Carroll will not return next season. To the surprise of no one, director of basketball operations Danny Ainge made the official announcement yesterday afternoon. Ainge said he would start the process of finding a coach immediately.
Although Ainge was vague about what he would look for, he does want a disciplinarian, a teacher of basketball, and a leader with solid game management skills, preferably with prior NBA head coaching experience.
"In the right circumstance, at the right time and in the right place, John Carroll is a very qualified head coach in the NBA," said Ainge. "[Boston] is not [one of the places] right now, in my opinion. And I think John would even agree with that, that this is a time that we need to make a change.
"John was in an unfortunate position. There were a lot of things that were dysfunctional in his circumstance that made it difficult for him. John believes he could do the job. But he's seeing it from my perspective, that we need a change."
Ainge named Carroll interim head coach after Jim O'Brien resigned Jan. 27. Carroll inherited an unstable situation,
with the team rocked by awkwardly-timed trades and the impending termination of Vin Baker. Though they wound up making the playoffs, the Celtics lost 12 of their first 13 games under Carroll. Though Ainge praised the "fantastic job" Carroll did "keeping the ship afloat," an apparent lack of front office support worked to undermine Carroll's authority with players in certain instances. From the moment Carroll took over, Ainge seemed to have designs on searching for another coach once the season ended.
"I understand that they have decisions to make," said Carroll when reached by phone. "If they decide not to go with me, that's their prerogative. I don't honestly think anybody knows what I had to deal with here for the last three months."
While Ainge said Carroll could see the need for a change, the coach did not expect that change to come yesterday. Carroll was surprised when a conversation with Ainge at the team's training facility yesterday morning turned to talk about his future with the organization.
"I guess I was surprised by the fact that there was already a 1:30 p.m. press conference called before I even knew what was going on," said Carroll. "I wanted to talk to Danny about the player meeting and the assistant coaches, but I never really thought of talking about anything other than those two things. Somehow, the conversation went to what I wanted to do. The conversation meandered into Danny wanting to go out and get a coach.
"I never said, `I don't want to be the head coach of the Boston Celtics.' I would have been honored to be the head coach of the Boston Celtics. But that wasn't an option. I don't want to give the impression that I volunteered [to leave]."
Carroll laid out three options for his future. No. 1, he could land a head job elsewhere in the NBA. No. 2, he could find a spot as an assistant with another team. No. 3, he could take a year off. According to a team source, the year-long sabbatical would be funded by the Celtics.
Ainge gave assistants Lester Conner, Frank Vogel, Joe Gallagher, and Paul Cormier permission to speak with other teams. Don't be surprised to see one or more of them resurface in Philadelphia, where O'Brien was recently hired as head coach.
Whoever takes the Boston job will likely assemble his own staff, though there may be room for one assistant to remain. Ainge said he would not be independently hiring the new assistants, though part of the interview process for a head coach will include questions about the staff.
While Ainge would like to complete the process as soon as possible, it did not sound as if there was any urgency to install a coach before the June 24 draft. Nevertheless, he termed the coaching hire his first priority.
Top candidates include Pepperdine coach Paul Westphal and Memphis assistant Lionel Hollins.
"It's flattering my name is out there, but I'd like to keep it as simple as possible," said Westphal, reached by phone last night. "I'm happy in the job I have. I have real affection for Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics. And if they think it's a good fit, they'll call me. I don't want to manufacture anything."
Westphal went on to dispute a report on ESPN.com that said he and Ainge had spoken recently and met last month in California.
"The last time I saw Danny was when I accidentally bumped into him while scouting players at a high school all-star basketball game in California," said Westphal. "It was around the all-star break, about two months ago. I haven't spoken to him since."
Westphal started his professional career with the Celtics in 1972. He has been a head coach in the NBA with Phoenix and Seattle. Hollins has been head coach of the Grizzlies.
Both Westphal and Hollins have worked with Ainge. Westphal was the head coach and Hollins an assistant when Ainge was finishing his playing career in Phoenix.
Given the breakdown of his relationship with O'Brien, it's important that Ainge hires a coach who shares his vision.
"I want a coach that will coach," said Ainge. "I want to be like Jerry West and Larry Bird, who are out there scouting players. I want to go spend November through March going in and looking at players. I don't want to be talking to the coaches. I want to support the coaches. I want to pat them on the back and give them love. I don't want to criticize and critique them."