Supersonics Fire Coach George Karl
May. 27, 1998
SEATTLE (AP) _ Gary Payton and Vin Baker will have a new coach next season. George Karl won't be back.
Karl, 47, was fired on Tuesday _ two weeks after his Seattle SuperSonics were knocked out of the NBA playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Part of the reason for Karl's departure was a lack of trust, team president and general manager Wally Walker said.
``I did say to his agent (Bret Adams of Columbus, Ohio) last Monday morning that if word of our conversation gets out, I can only assume that George doesn't really want the job,'' Walker said. ``And it did get out.''
The Sonics hope to have a new head coach by the time of the NBA draft on June 24.
Names that are being mentioned as possible replacements for Karl are former NBA head coaches Paul Westphal, Bob Hill and Bob Weiss. Weiss was a member of Karl's staff in Seattle.
Because Weiss has been in Seattle, he might have the inside track to replace Karl.
Walker said he wanted to hire an experienced coach because the Sonics, with All-Stars Payton and Baker along with Hersey Hawkins and Detlef Schrempf, were an older team.
``There'll be a list soon,'' he said. ``There's none currently and I've not talked to anybody. But I don't want to procrastinate too long. I think that would be unfair to anybody.''
Weiss' contract as an assistant with the Sonics will expire July 1, as will be the contracts of assistants Dwane Casey, Tim Grgurich and Terry Stotts.
``They're outstanding assistant coaches,'' Walker said. ``They do a great job. I would recommend them to any new coach here or any coach anywhere.''
Karl's departure from Seattle was expected after the Sonics, following a 61-21 regular season record, bombed out in the Western Conference finals to the Shaquille O'Neal-led Lakers.
Karl had a shaky relationship with team owner Barry Ackerley and Walker, and he was seeking a big raise after coaching the Sonics for $3.2 million this season.
But the major reason for Karl's firing was probably the Sonics' playoff failures.
They didn't win a championship under Karl, and that rankled Ackerley, who complained before the playoffs that he was unhappy he didn't have a championship ring.
Walker denied Karl's treatment of Jim McIlvane, signed by Walker as a free agent to a $35 million contract, had anything to do with Karl's firing. McIlvaine started much of the past two regular seasons, but was not used much in the playoffs.
``He got isolated as a guy who the coach didn't want,'' Walker said. ``I think that's wrong for any player to feel that. But I never get involved in playing time.''
Karl coached the Sonics for 6 1/2 seasons and had the best winning percentage (.719, 384-150) in the team's regular-season history. Under Karl, the team had three 60-victory seasons.
But the Sonics under Karl were 40-40 in the playoffs, being eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals the past two seasons after reaching the NBA Finals against Chicago in 1996.
In 1994, No. 8 seed Denver shocked the Sonics, when they were a No. 1 seed, in the first round of the playoffs. The following season, the Lakers upset the Sonics in the first round.
Ackerley fired then team president and general manager Bob Whitsitt after the 1995 season. Whitsitt now is president and GM of the Portland Trail Blazers under owner Paul Allen.
The decision to let Karl go was not a popular one with the Sonics' players.
``I know the guys are going to be disappointed,'' said Dale Ellis, speaking at a charity golf tournament Tuesday in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. ``He's a players' coach.''
After being fired from his third NBA head coaching job, Karl is expected to be in big demand.
``I don't think George is gonna be unemployed for long,'' Adams said. ``He should be a commodity.''
Adams added: ``We haven't (talked to other teams yet). We can't initiate any calls. His contract runs through July 1. My question to Wally this afternoon is to give us permission to talk (to other teams).''
Karl didn't talk to anyone Tuesday about his firing. Adams said he took it hard.
``He is an emotional guy and this firing _ professionally it doesn't hurt him but emotionally no one wants to get fired,'' Adams said. ``His father is in Seattle and I think it's tough for his son and father and wife to have their guy fired, and from an emotional standpoint I think it's real tough for him.''
Karl, who took over for K.C. Jones on Jan. 23, 1992, after leaving the Real Madrid team in Spain, got the Sonics to the playoffs in all seven of his seasons in Seattle.
He was fired by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1986 and then by the Golden State Warriors two years later.