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Clippers’ Search Ends at Beginning as Casey Is Rehired

Times Staff Writer

The Clippers announced Wednesday that Don Casey, their interim coach of nearly six months, has become the full-time coach, ending a search that touched many fronts but eventually was resolved in-house.

Casey signed a one-year deal, with the Clippers holding an option for the 1990-91 season, to continue coaching the team he has guided since Gene Shue was fired on Jan. 19. He went 11-33 after taking over, including a 10-12 finish, which included wins over the Lakers, the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz. It was that stretch and the support of his players that got Casey the promotion.

“I would say Casey is who all the guys wanted,” said center Benoit Benjamin, one of Casey’s biggest supporters. “He knows what it takes to relate to the younger players.”

Owner Donald T. Sterling established Casey, an assistant under three Clipper coaches and to Paul Westhead at Chicago, as the leading candidate for the job several weeks ago. He was kept on the payroll beyond his contract’s July 1 expiration date and remained an active part of the organization. He sat in on planning meetings for the recent draft and helped organize a team for the summer league.

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At the same time, the Clippers were considering other options. They looked to the college ranks for Jim Valvano of North Carolina State, although serious talks never materialized. They looked to the pros for Mike Schuler, a former NBA coach of the year with Portland, who came in last Wednesday but the next day became a Warrior assistant. General Manager Elgin Baylor said there were others interviewed but declined even to say how many.

Apparently, they wanted to talk with Atlanta Coach Mike Fratello but never got permission from Stan Kasten, the Hawks’ general manager. Kasten would not to confirm or deny the story.

Casey’s only wavering during the waiting was on an April trip to New Jersey, where he met with officials from Rider College about the vacancy there. His preference all along, however, was to stay with the Clippers.

The wish became a reality Wednesday. As Casey dined with friends Tuesday night, his attorney, Michael Goldberg, worked out contract details with Baylor and Andy Roeser, the team’s executive vice president for business operations. The process moved quickly, and the agreement was made final Wednesday morning.

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“A key to the very smooth negotiations was the familiarity between the parties,” Goldberg said.

Casey is one of the senior members of the Clippers, having joined in 1983-84 as an assistant under Jim Lynam. He left after one season for a brief stint as head coach of Club Scalavini in an Italian pro league, and four months as a volunteer assistant at Notre Dame, but returned to the Clippers in 1985.

Casey’s most recent season was one of twisting emotions. He was glad for the chance to coach in the NBA, but uncomfortable that the opportunity came at the expense of a friend such as Shue. He took over in the midst of a losing streak that would reach a franchise-record tying 19 games.

“My feelings are of contentment, or relief that it (the wait to be named head coach) is over,” said Casey, who spent nine years as head coach at Temple before going into the NBA. “I feel good about it. I’m using it as a plus that others were talked to and formally interviewed and I’m the one who’s still here. They talked and they listened, and it’s nice to think they went with me. They obviously liked what they saw at the end of the year.”

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While the Clippers were releasing the the news of Casey’s hiring, he was already preparing for the season ahead. Soon after, he headed home to San Diego to help celebrate the 22nd birthday of daughter Leann, but is expected back at Clipper offices today.

“It’s a normal work day around here without any fanfare,” the head coach, non-interim basis, said.

Clipper Notes

A decision on the future of Don Casey’s assistants, Jim Eyen and Joe Roberts, is forthcoming. . . . The Clippers’ commitment to guard Reggie Williams, who ended the 1988-89 season on the suspended list for twice refusing to enter a game, has not changed since the end of the season. They protected him in the June 15 expansion draft, instead making Quintin Dailey, who started more games than any other guard last season, available, and more recently turned away trade opportunities. Seattle Coach Bernie Bickerstaff, one of Williams’ biggest supporters, called before the June 27 college draft and made one of its two first-round choices available in exchange for the former No. 4 pick, but the Clippers refused. . . . Benoit Benjamin, who is open to offer sheets as a restricted free agent, has not picked an agent to replace Larry Fleisher, who died in May. Benjamin said he wants to stay with the Clippers and it is expected the team will match any offer sheets from other clubs. “It doesn’t matter who it is,” Benjamin said of his representative. “I’m in a situation where the ballclub knows they can’t win much without me. I’m not trying to brag or anything, but I think it’s been proven the better I play, the better the team goes.” Bragging or not, he’s right.

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There doesn’t figure to be any movement regarding first-round draft choice Danny Ferry, possibly until August. Ferry, who has yet to select an agent, is on a post-graduation European vacation and is scheduled to speak at a basketball camp in Maryland after that. “For him to get away for a while is the best thing,” said his coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski. . . . Maybe Ferry, who has given the appearance of being unhappy about being selected by the Clippers, saw trouble coming. Speaking at a press conference the week before being made the No. 2 pick, he said of the draft process: “I’m glad to be part of it, but I don’t have any control. They dictate where the players go. I don’t like it. I was able to pick Duke. This is the (pro) system. This is what I have to live by. I don’t think it’s fair. It’s not the American way.”


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