The New York Knicks got the man they wanted when they hired Pat Riley as their coach in 1991, but his successor will be someone other than their top choice. Chuck Daly withdrew his name from consideration Friday, forcing the New York Knicks to switch to Plan B, believed to be former Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson.
“We will continue the process of finding and hiring the best possible coach for our organization,” Ernie Grunfeld, the team’s general manager, said in a statement.
When Riley resigned nine days ago, Madison Square Garden President Dave Checketts said he would “not beg anybody to coach” the Knicks, and there was no indication he broke that promise in trying to woo Daly. After several days of discussions, Daly said he simply decided he was not ready to get back into the National Basketball Association rat race after a year working as a cable television analyst.
“It is an intriguing job, one of the five or six best coaching jobs in sports,” Daly said in a statement released by the Knicks. “But ultimately, I didn’t feel that I could make or wanted to make the kind of commitment that is necessary to return to coaching. I’m at a stage of my life where I don’t feel the need to get back into the hectic, day-to-day grind that the NBA schedule demands.”
It was believed Daly sought a contract worth about $3 million per season and the Knicks offered less than that, but Daly’s Atlanta-based agent, Lonnie Cooper, insisted financial terms were not even discussed. “Money never came into play,” Cooper said in a telephone interview.
Cooper said he called Grunfeld with the news early Friday. "(Daly) just made a decision that he didn’t want to get into the daily grind of coaching again,” Cooper said. “He made that commitment a long time ago. It was pretty enticing to be part of the Knicks organization.”
Asked if Daly agonized over the decision, Cooper said, “Very much so. Together, we did for days. It was an opportunity every coach dreams about. It was very enticing to him. He has the ultimate respect for the Knicks organization.”
Said Daly, who will turn 65 July 20: “The Knicks are a very talented ballclub, one of the most talented in the league. In fact, if it hadn’t been this organization, I wouldn’t have even considered talking about it.”
Daly, whose 40-year coaching career included two NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons, an Olympic gold medal with the United States “Dream Team” in 1992, two tumultuous years with the Nets and induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994, will return to his job with the TNT cable network. He has three years left on a contract that pays him an average of $550,000.
The decision echoed Daly’s comments the day he resigned as New Jersey Nets coach with one year left on his contract after the 1993-94 season. “The bottom line is that after 1,475 games at every level, I’ve finally made the decision it’s time to leave the bench,” Daly said then. “This was not an easy decision. I’ve been agonizing over this decision for the past couple of years. The grind gets to you. It gets to everyone. I’m pretty confident I will not be on the bench again.”
Grunfeld, making his first specific comments about one of the candidates on the team’s wish list, said, “Chuck was obviously one of our top choices for the job, but we knew all along there was a good chance he might not want to return to coaching. Anytime a Hall of Fame coach is available, though, you have to at least explore that option. We wish Chuck the very best in all of his future endeavors.”
Knowing Daly was far from a sure thing, Grunfeld met with Nelson, 55, in Milwaukee Tuesday. Nelson almost certainly would take the job if offered it. Nelson was in the Midwest Friday and is scheduled to travel to Lithuania Sunday for a monthlong overseas trip.
Nelson, who coached the United States to a gold medal in the World Championships last summer, left the Warriors in February, one month after a prolonged feud with Chris Webber led to Webber being traded to the Washington Bullets. Facing a player revolt and a struggling team, an exhausted Nelson announced he needed some time away from the game.
Former Celtics coach Chris Ford also has been mentioned as a possibility for the Knicks job. Other appealing candidates, such as Phil Jackson and Mike Fratello, are under contract to other teams.