INDIANAPOLIS - Rick Carlisle was fired Wednesday after four tumultuous years as coach of the Indiana Pacers, who failed to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle looks up at the scoreboard during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets in Indianapolis, in this Dec. 26, 2006 file photo. Carlisle was fired Wednesday after four tumultuous years as Indiana Pacers coach, following a season in which the team did not make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Carlisle said he understood it was time for the Pacers to hear a "new voice." Team president Larry Bird said Carlisle has an option to return to the team in another capacity. Carlisle was appointed vice president in October and has until June 15 to decide if he wants to keep that title.
The Pacers finished the season 35-47, their worst since 1988-89. Indiana was 29-24 shortly after the All-Star break, but lost its next 11 games to fall out of playoff contention. A loss to Detroit on April 3 clinched the Pacers' first losing season since 1996-97.
Carlisle struggled to manage talented but volatile players. Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson were the two most prominent players in the 2004 brawl between Pacers players and Detroit Pistons fans. That brawl started the unraveling of a team that was expected to make several title runs.
"This came down to what was in the best interests of the franchise going forward," Carlisle said. "Coaching is something that gets in your blood. But then again, when you know it's time, you know it's time."
Carlisle acknowledged his struggles to connect with the players.
"It's a people business, and communication is really important," Carlisle said. "You can never be too good a communicator. It's something I want to continue to work on."
Carlisle isn't sure if he wants to coach again, retain the Pacers management position or take time off to be with his family. Seattle has fired its coach, as has Sacramento — where Artest now plays.
"He's got an opportunity to stay here," Bird said. "But you know Rick, he'll be out there networking and if he gets another job, he gets another job."
Carlisle and Bird said the coaching search will include candidates within the organization. Carlisle said Pacers assistants Johnny Davis and Chuck Person are ready to make the move. Davis has made head coaching stops in Orlando and Philadelphia. Bird said he's not interested in coaching the team he led to the NBA finals in 2000.
In the Pacers' first year under Carlisle in 2003-04, they went 61-21 for the best record in the NBA, and the club reached the Eastern Conference finals. Indiana started the 2004-05 season in similar fashion, winning six of its first eight games.
Then came Nov. 19, 2004.
Artest went into the stands after a Detroit Pistons fan he thought doused him with a beverage, and some of his teammates joined in the melee. Artest was suspended for 73 games and the playoffs, and teammates Jermaine O'Neal, Jackson and Anthony Johnson were given shorter suspensions.
The remaining Pacers clawed their way to a 44-38 record and the second round of the playoffs, but Pacers fans were upset that Miller's final season ended that way.
Even with the brawl year, Carlisle said this season was the toughest he's had in coaching, the situation made more difficult because of his close friendship with Bird. Carlisle said he spoke with Bird on Tuesday and they decided that whichever of them dies first, the other will read the eulogy.
"I've seen other friends part ways and never speak again," Bird said, "but that's not the way it's going to be with us."