Pitino leaves Knicks in void

By IAN LOVE, UPISports Writer  |  May 31, 1989
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NEW YORK -- With Rick Pitino heading for the blue grass of Kentucky, New York York Knicks General Manager Al Bianchi must pound the pavement for another coach.

Bianchi Wednesday called Dallas Coach John MacLeod, who was head coach of Phoenix when Bianchi was an assistant there. The two worked together for 12 years with the Suns.

Dallas general manager Norm Sonju said he will ask MacLeod Thursday if the coach is interested in talking with the Knicks about the opening. The teams agreed no decision would be made until MacLeod, who was in Connecticut on Wednesday to appear on the ESPN show 'The NBA Today,' returns Thursday to Dallas to talk with Mavericks officials.

'Before we grant permission (for MacLeod to talk to the Knicks), we'd like to sit down and talk with John and see what his feeling is,' Sonju said. 'We want to talk to John and ask him some questions. Before permission is given, we want to find out what he wants. I expect John to be here, but I've been surprised before in this business.'

Among other candidates rumored to be interested in the job are Atlanta Coach Mike Fratello, a former Knick assistant; former Knicks player and current Chicago assistant coach Phil Jackson; and former Knick assistant coach and current Detroit assistant Brendan Malone.

North Carolina State Coach Jim Valvano has also been mentioned as a candidate. While corporate owners Gulf & Western might be enticed by high-profile coach such as Valvano, Bianchi may want to hire a coach with a proven record in the pros.

Bianchi reportedly clashed with Pitino over instituting a half-court offense for the playoffs. New York won the Atlantic Division for the first time in 18 years, but was eliminated by the Chicago Bulls in the second round.

'Most coaches in the pro game like the running style,' Bianchi said. 'But when you play in May and June with that running style, somehow you cannot do it. And it ends up in a half-court situation.'

Pitino's departure leaves a void for the Knicks. The 36-year-old coach instituted a fast-break offense and a complex trapping defense that suited the young team. However, it also took them two years to learn his system and it may well take some time for the New York players to adjust to a new coach.

Pitino and his team thrived on emotion, a style perhaps better suited to the shorter college season. Pitino admitted he preferred coaching in college.

'It's what I wanted to do,' Pitino said. 'I wish it could have lasted longer with the Knicks, but I am a college basketball coach and this is in the best interest of everyone. The only reason I came to the Knicks was because I was born and raised in New York and I wanted to be a part of the resurgence. I wish to thank the players and the fans who all gave the extra effort we needed.'

Bianchi said there was no rift with his former coach.

'I know what you've read in the papers, but we've had very few problems,' Bianchi said. 'And the bottom line is when you rate a coach you talk about his won-loss record. And Rick's won-lost record was fantastic.'

Pitino took over a Knicks squad that had gone 24-58 and led them to 38-44 and 52-30 records in two seasons.

Bianchi is not looking forward to the job ahead.

'I have to find another coach,' he said. 'And in my mind there aren't that many out there.'

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