Rollie Massimino rejected an offer from the New Jersey Nets Thursday that would have made him one of the highest-paid coaches in the National Basketball Assn.
Massimino chose instead to stay at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia, where he has posted a 228-137 record in 12 seasons. His Wildcats won the NCAA tournament this spring, upsetting top-ranked Georgetown in the title game.
The emotional Massimino, 51, turned down the deal, reportedly for at least $2.1 million over 10 years, after night-long negotiations, Nets President Bernie Mann said.
The decision was made less than seven hours before a scheduled early-afternoon news conference to announce that Massimino would be the Nets’ new coach.
“We are in a state of shock,” said Jay Rosenfeld, the Nets’ assistant publicity director. “It’s like a bride not showing up at the wedding. Nothing has been done about a new coach at this point. Every name that was mentioned before can be mentioned again.”
Said Massimino in a statement released by the university: “I felt it was in the best interests of my family, Villanova, our players and Jake Nevin to stay at Villanova. The decision was very trying and tiring.”
Nevin, Villanova’s longtime trainer, is terminally ill with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Massimino could not be reached at his home or at the university, but his wife, Mary Jane, said: “I am happy with whatever decision he was happy with.”
That decision left the Nets without a successor to Stan Albeck, who signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Bulls Monday.
“We’re back to square one again.” Mann said. “He was our No. 1 choice. It certainly is disappointing. We put a lot of effort into it.”
The Nets were also planning to put a lot of money into Massimino’s bank account. He reportedly would have received $375,000 annually in his first four years with New Jersey.
Pat Riley, coach of the Lakers, earns a reported $500,000 a year, and Albeck was said to have signed a deal worth about $350,000 annually with the Bulls.
Mann said that club officials met Thursday and decided to wait until after the league meeting in San Francisco Tuesday to find another coach.
Previous candidates included former Net Dave Wohl, an assistant coach with the Lakers; Billy Cunningham, who recently resigned as 76er coach, and John Thompson, the coach at Georgetown.
Mann has favored hiring a college coach, but he would not say if he still favored that, considering Massimino’s surprising decision.
“We’re big boys,” Mann said. “There are no hard feelings. Rollie is still a fine coach.”
Massimino was honored at a fund-raising “roast” in Philadelphia Wednesday night, and his decision was warmly welcomed by Villanova officials, who learned of it early Thursday morning.
“The university as a whole is delighted that Rollie Massimino has decided to stay,” said Craig Miller, Villanova’s sports information director. “The rare quality he has to make his athletes better men is something that is hard to find.”
Ted Aceto, athletic director at Villanova, would not discuss the terms of Massimino’s contract with the school Wednesday, but Miller said the coach was expected to sign a new contract within the next week.
When the team was told of Massimino’s decision to stay, its reaction was one of “unexpected elation,” Miller said. “Ninety percent of them felt he was leaving.”
So did the Nets.