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O'Brien, stunning Celtics, resigns as coach

Basketball chief Ainge cites philosophical differences

WALTHAM -- Jim O'Brien resigned as head coach of the Celtics yesterday, shocking players, owners, and director of basketball operations Danny Ainge with his decision. Also, assistant coach Dick Harter, a longtime friend of O'Brien and a defensive mastermind, was fired.

Assistant coach John Carroll, who is in his seventh season with the team, was named interim head coach.

During a brief press conference at the team's practice facility at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint, Ainge cited philosophical differences with O'Brien regarding the direction of the team and personnel decisions. While Ainge said he did not view the differences as insurmountable, O'Brien apparently did, and in the wake of a blowout loss to the New Jersey Nets Sunday, O'Brien determined he could no longer coach the team.

According to team and league sources, O'Brien vented his frustrations Monday afternoon to Ainge. Their differences concerned an overhaul of the roster, the playing time allotted to rookies, and the long-term versus short-term goals of the team. When questioned at his home last night about the situation, O'Brien declined comment.

"Jim vents, but I usually don't disagree with his venting," said Ainge. "That's why I don't feel our differences are that monumental. But he disagrees. He thinks that they are monumental and I don't see it that way. But we are different.

"I guess if a guy doesn't want to work on the relationship and see the things going forward, then I respect the fact that he's willing to walk away and not drag us down, in his own words.

"I think Jim O'Brien is just a great human being. I'm a big fan and always will be a big fan of his. But he just didn't believe that it was going to work.

"With these things, there always has to be a reason, there always has to be somebody that's at fault. But I don't really think that I'm at fault. I don't think that Jim's at fault. Jim just recognized that it wasn't going to work in his mind."

Ainge, who coached the Phoenix Suns for three-plus seasons from 1996-99, denied he had any intention of returning to the sideline.

The relationship between Ainge and O'Brien was thought by many to be problematic for a long time. After a major restructuring of the Celtics through trades with Dallas and Cleveland, many questioned whether Ainge was building a team that O'Brien would ultimately like to coach.

And indeed, the Celtics increasingly became a team O'Brien was uncomfortable coaching. He was strongly opposed to the Dec. 15, 2003, deal in which Eric Williams, Tony Battie, and Kedrick Brown went to Cleveland in exchange for Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm, and Michael Stewart. The trade came after the Celtics had won five straight games.

"I think Jim was ultimately frustrated by the situation where Danny made all the decisions, frequently against his objections," said Basketball Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay, who is O'Brien's father-in-law and frequent confidant. "The net result was a team that wasn't of Jim's liking and not one he wanted to coach especially.

"He thought they had turned the corner and had gotten the team really focused after they had that five-game winning streak. And they come back and he loses three players. Eric Williams was a key guy for Jim. It was fighting an uphill battle from there.

"The whole process, the evaluation of players and where Danny thinks the team is going with the players that they have, that he's acquired, is not the same evaluation that Jim has.

"I think the loss at New Jersey on Sunday was a key loss. The way they played and just the whole atmosphere of that game was not the way he wanted the team to play."

O'Brien, 51, became head coach in January 2001 after Rick Pitino resigned. In his two full seasons at the helm -- 2001-02 and 2002-03 -- the Celtics made the playoffs. In the spring of 2002, they won two rounds and reached the Eastern Conference finals. O'Brien's overall record was 139-119 for the regular season, 13-13 in the playoffs. The Celtics, who play Detroit tonight at the FleetCenter, are 22-24 but in second place in the Atlantic Division and in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

Players were told of O'Brien's decision yesterday afternoon, and the news was understandably painful for those who had played under him the longest. One reason O'Brien succeeded in returning the Celtics to the playoffs was his ability to earn the trust and respect of his players. "It's painful," said center Mark Blount. "He is just good people. His family has a good man, a really good man. If anybody wanted to know what a father figure is, they just have to look at O'Brien. He's a gentleman. He's first class."

WALTHAM -- Jim O'Brien resigned as head coach of the Celtics yesterday, shocking players, owners, and director of basketball operations Danny Ainge with his decision. Also, assistant coach Dick Harter, a longtime friend of O'Brien and defensive mastermind, was fired.

During a brief press conference at the team's practice facility at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint, Ainge cited philosophical differences with O'Brien regarding the direction of the team and personnel decisions. While Ainge said he did not view the differences as insurmountable, O'Brien apparently did, and in the wake of a blowout loss to the New Jersey Nets Sunday, he determined he could no longer coach the team.

According to team and league sources, O'Brien vented his frustrations Monday afternoon to Ainge. Their differences concerned a vast overhaul of the roster, the playing time allotted to rookies, and the long-term versus short-term goals of the team.

When questioned at his home last night about the situation, O'Brien declined comment.

"Jim vents, but I usually don't disagree with his venting," said Ainge. "That's why I don't feel our differences are that monumental. But he disagrees. He thinks that they are monumental and I don't see it that way. But we are different.

"I guess if a guy doesn't want to work on the relationship and see the things going forward, then I respect the fact that he's willing to walk away and not drag us down, in his own words.

"I think Jim O'Brien is just a great human being. I'm a big fan and always will be a big fan of his. But he just didn't believe that it was going to work.

"With these things, there always has to be a reason, there always has to be somebody that's at fault. But I don't really think that I'm at fault. I don't think that Jim's at fault. Jim just recognized that it wasn't going to work in his mind."

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