Unseld leaves coaching

April 25, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- It was an era that would not end via a press release. Or from behind a podium in a cramped interview room. Instead, Wes Unseld's tenure as coach of the Washington Bullets would end amid a festive atmosphere, witnessed yesterday by a sellout crowd at the USAir Arena.

Grabbing the microphone at the scorer's table at the conclusion of yesterday's season-ending win over the Charlotte Hornets, Unseld ended weeks of speculation by announcing his resignation. And after the announcement, Unseld left the floor to a standing ovation, as confetti and balloons filled the air.

"I'm not going to say it's easy," Unseld said later. "I went about trying to do the best I could. It's time for a new voice."

Unseld, who early last week said he would wait until the end of the season to consider his status, actually decided on Saturday during a meeting with team owner Abe Pollin. It was then that Unseld, a Hall of Famer who led the Bullets to the playoffs in 12 of his 13 seasons as a player, told Pollin that he would not continue in the job he took as a favor to Pollin during the 1987-88 season. Unseld will take the summer off before returning to an unspecified position in the front office, where he holds the title of vice president.

"It was a mutual agreement, and we talked about it [Saturday]," Pollin said. "We haven't defined [Unseld's role] yet. We'll be talking about it.

"I think Wes has done a fantastic job under very, very trying circumstances. He gave it all he had. Exactly as he did as a player."

Unseld's departure apparently gives more power to general manager John Nash, who, because of what he described as a "special relationship" between Unseld and Pollin, admittedly has been powerless to make a coaching move.

"I believe Mr. Pollin will lean on me, especially in this particular situation, to recommend to him the best possible coach we can have," Nash said. "I want the best coach for this team. Without having an opportunity to sit down and go over a list of candidates, it would be very difficult to define that right now."

Already, there's speculation that Jim Lynam will leave his general manager's job with the Philadelphia 76ers to replace Unseld. Lynam coached the 76ers for 4 1/2 seasons, beginning in 1988, when Nash was general manager in Philadelphia.

Lynam did not return phone calls to his office last week. But he told the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Once the season is over is when I'll force myself to decide whether I would like to return to coaching."

Nash said yesterday that the team might consider a college coach.

"There are several college coaches that I think might also do a good job," Nash said. "So we're really in the very, very beginning stages of pursuing a coach."

Bullets players said they were not surprised by Unseld's resignation.

"You could tell sometimes in his face," rookie Calbert Cheaney said. "Sometimes he was mentally gone, just down."

Added Rex Chapman: "You could kind of tell he was thinking about it. It just seemed like maybe he would like to do something else."

Chapman was one of several players saying they owed a lot of their progress to Unseld. During the 1992-93 season, Unseld made an example of Chapman, sitting him down when he felt the guard wasn't playing up to his potential.

"I learned I couldn't just rely on my athletic ability in this league, and I had to learn it the hard way last year," Chapman said. "When I came back, Wes and I became very close as far as players and coaches go. I owe a lot to him."

Forward Don MacLean, the all-time leading scorer in Pac-10 history, had a similar story, suffering growing pains after Unseld benched him during his rookie season.

"He let me know that I still had a lot of work to do to become the player he knows I want to become," MacLean said. "I knew after a certain point that it was all on me. It wasn't his fault that I wasn't playing."

Point guard Michael Adams said he welcomed the added responsibility that Unseld gave him this season.

"This year, I got to talk the game through with him, and through that I got to know him a little more," Adams said. "When a coach steps down, you judge him on wins and losses. I wish we could have won a lot more games so he could be around."

Earlier, Adams had been emotional.

"Any time in this business . . ." said Adams, stopping to compose himself. "I'm going to miss him as a person and a coach. He teaches young players very valuable lessons."

Before yesterday's game, Unseld told the team that he was resigning.

"He told us he was happy to be able to influence us a little bit, and he wished us good luck in the future," forward Tom Gugliotta said. "And on the way out he said: 'I don't want you to win this one for me, I want you to win it for yourselves.' As usual, he never wanted to draw any attention away from the team."

So it was fitting that the players were off the floor when Unseld made his announcement.

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