John MacLeod, who brought the Dallas Mavericks to the brink of the NBA finals two years ago, was fired as head coach on Wednesday for failing to motivate the stumbling club.
Assistant coach Richie Adubato was named to coach the Mavericks (5-6) against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night “as well as the next few games,” vice president of basketball operations Rick Sund said.
Adubato served as interim coach for the Detroit Pistons in the 1979-80 season.
“The Mavericks have a multitude of problems,” Sund said. “Certainly John has not caused those problems but at this particular time in order to get the team turned around we feel a coaching change is necessary.
“We need to get the team going again. For the time being Richie is going to take over the team while we evaluate the situation.”
A stunned MacLeod was fired after a late-morning practice.
“The reasons being there were a multitude of reasons, and the team had a multitude of problems, and I am relieved of my job,” MacLeod said. “They felt the change was needed, so I’m out.”
The trigger for the firing was a 47-point loss to Seattle at home last Saturday. It was the worst home loss in team history and the Mavericks’ second-worst loss ever.
“That was just one game in an 82-game season,” MacLeod said. “I didn’t have much of a chance to turn things around.”
“A decision like this is never easy, especially when you have a person that we respect as much as we do John,” said chief operating officer and general manager Norm Sonju. “After reviewing our overall basketball situation we felt that the present team that we have right now needs a coaching change.”
The team also has been stung by the loss of forward Roy Tarpley, who was indefinitely suspended following his arrest on driving while intoxicated charges. Tarpley had been suspended previously because of drug problems.
“There are things in the coaching ranks that you don’t have any control over,” MacLeod said. “You don’t have any control over injuries and you don’t have control over drug problems. John MacLeod can’t go out and play for the guys.”
Sund said at a late-afternoon news conference that he made the decision to fire MacLeod because “the lack of effort was evident.
“I was a big fan of John MacLeod, and I recommended him for the job here. This is a very uncomfortable moment for me, and I feel badly that things didn’t work out.”
Sund said Adubato would coach Thursday night’s game in San Antonio against the Spurs and also Saturday in Houston against the Rockets before any further decisions are made.
He also said “the possibility is there” that Adubato would continue coaching for the rest of the season, and that some personnel changes might be made.
“Nobody on this team is an untouchable,” Sund said.
Subdued owner Donald Carter said that although it was Sund’s decision to fire MacLeod, “Me and Norm Sonju will have to take the heat with Rick.”
Adubato was unavailable for comment until after Wednesday night’s game.
MacLeod joined the Mavericks on June 4, 1987, succeeding Dick Motta, who retired May 20,1987. In 14 years with Phoenix before he was fired, MacLeod guided his team to the Western Conference finals four times.
MacLeod took the Mavs to the seventh game of the 1988 Western finals against the eventual world champion Los Angels Lakers.
Before this season, MacLeod’s two-year record with the Mavericks was 91-73.
Going into the season, MacLeod was the eighth-winningest coach in NBA history with a 16-year record of 670-616. Among active coaches, only Cleveland’s Lenny Wilkens and New Jersey’s Bill Fitch have more victories.
“I’m not finished by any means, I guarantee you that,” MacLeod said. “I got a lot of juice left and I’ve got a lot of fire left. I’ve got a lot to offer, and I’m a solid coach and I’m a good man and a strong person so things are going to work out for me, there’s no doubt in my mind about that.”
Sund said the Mavs likely will offer MacLeod a front office job.
“We have talked with John about the possibility of accepting another position in our basketball operation,” Sund said. “John is going to take some time off and get back to us at a later date.”