HILADELPHIA -- Former New Jersey Nets coach John Calipari was chosen as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers, the team announced Friday.
"Coach Brown has been a mentor and friend for a long time," Calipari said in a statement released by the team. "This is an excellent opportunity for me to help the 76ers and to grow as a coach."
Calipari, who helped turn the University of Massachusetts into a national power as a college coach, was hired by the Nets on June 7, 1996, taking over one of the league's worst teams. The Nets went 30-52 the previous two seasons under Butch Beard.
A protege of Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino, Calipari was given the power to change the Nets from a perennial loser into a winner, and made some progress. But following the NBA lockout, the Nets failed to rediscover the chemistry that made them one of the most exciting young teams in the league two seasons ago.
In two-plus seasons as Nets coach, Calipari had a record of 72-112. His 1997-98 team made the playoffs but was swept by the eventual champion Chicago Bulls in the first round.
Calipari is a native of Moon, Pa., and played collegiately at North Carolina-Wilmington and Clarion.
In other personnel news, the 76ers promoted Tony DiLeo to director of player personnel. DiLeo, the team's director of scouting for the past five years, replaces Kevin O'Connor, who left the 76ers for the Utah Jazz.
hy? Why would John Calipari, knowing his New Jersey Nets contract guarantees him $6 million over the next two years, knowing he could spend that time doing anything - anything - he wished, agree to become an assistant with the 76ers?
Why? Why would a guy who directed the University of Massachusetts program for eight years, who held the titles of coach and vice president of basketball operations for two seasons-plus with the Nets, be willing to sublimate his personality, in effect carry a clipboard for someone else?
Calipari, hired last Friday, found himself reaching across more than a decade of coaching to fashion an answer, taking himself back to the innocence of being 23, working as a first-year assistant to Larry Brown at Kansas.
"I watered his yard, walked his dog, did his laundry, got coffee, whatever they wanted," Calipari recalled. "Remember, I'm a kid from Moon Township, outside Pittsburgh, and I'm being given this chance to learn how to coach from Larry Brown, to learn his philosophy. Think about that. This is a guy whose roots go back to Phog Allen, to Dean Smith and, in a way, all the way back to Dr. James Naismith. Even then, you had to know this guy was a Hall of Famer, even if he hadn't been formally admitted. This was his path."
Fast forward: through major success at UMass; to a five-year, $15 million contract with the Nets; to getting fired by the Nets after a 3-17 start last season; to finishing the season as an ESPN analyst, generally wondering what quality of work he was really doing in the studio; to being cornered by Brown - now the coach and vice president of basketball operations with the Sixers - and being asked to join a staff that already included Randy Ayers, John Kuester and Maurice Cheeks.
"It comes down to two things," said Calipari, who delayed his initial visit to Philadelphia from yesterday until today. "One, I'm a coach; that's what I do, what I love. But the main thing is, coach Brown grabbed me [during a golf outing] in Pinehurst [N.C.] and said, 'What about doing this with me?' It's not about the money; it never has been. I'm obviously fine financially.
"This is a chance to learn from my mentor. If I can help him, give back for all that he has done for me, great. At the very least, this will give me a chance to go back to my roots and learn again about the game, about coaching, doing it with someone who cares about me, someone I care about."
Brown had wanted to do this immediately after Calipari was released by the Nets, but had been blocked by Pat Croce, the Sixers' president. In 1996, as Croce was assuming stewardship of the Sixers, he had meetings scheduled in Chicago with Calipari and Johnny Davis, the candidates to succeed the fired John Lucas. Calipari, believing he was about to get the Nets' job, skipped the appointment. Croce seethed.
Shortly afterward, with Davis in place with the Sixers and Calipari with the Nets, Calipari telephoned Croce to clear up what he viewed as a "miscommunication." Calipari spoke with Croce several times before last week's deal was consummated, leaving Croce saying, "Apology accepted." And that he was in favor of any move that would bring the team "closer to a championship parade."
It would appear that being on the bench with Brown was what Calipari wanted most. What Brown wanted was someone next to him with head coaching experience in the league.
"Coaching is a matter of getting in the trenches, doing it with people who are important to you," Calipari said. "I told [Brown], if I had to uproot my family three days before the start of school, I probably wouldn't. Here, though, I can commute from New Jersey. Think about how many people have to commute a couple of hours to work. That's not a problem. And think about coach Brown offering me a job - that says a lot about how secure he is. If he believes I can help, I want to be here."
It has worked for others. Alvin Gentry was a Brown assistant; now he's the coach of the Detroit Pistons. Gregg Popovich was a Brown assistant; now he's the coach and general manager of the San Antonio Spurs. Garfield Heard was an assistant to Brown with the Sixers; now he's the coach of the Washington Wizards. There have been others; there probably will be more. Calipari is merely the latest.
He could have stayed in TV. He pursued coaching jobs at the college and pro levels, and was pursued. But people close to him, including his father, preached caution. The coach in Calipari stepped aside; the man paid careful attention.
"I had just gotten fired after having such great expectations [for the season]," he said. "We were going to be great. Instead, I was gone after 20 games. People said, 'Don't make a quick decision.' I mean, an accountant doesn't make a career move in April [in the heat of the tax season].
"Things got thrown at me so quick, I realized I wasn't ready to go down that road. To coach, you have to be passionate, enthusiastic, juiced. I told the people who came after me that I wasn't ready, that it wouldn't be fair to them or me. I had to get my head together. Even now, I don't know what I might do. I could be in Philly a year, I could be here three years, I could be back in college, I could be somewhere else in the NBA.
"All I know is, I enjoyed TV, had fun doing it, but, really, I didn't know what I was doing. I was just up there, talking. Was I any good? I wouldn't know. When we'd finish a show, I'd say, 'How'd I do?'"
Maybe someday that will be a profession Calipari will choose to approach the way he approaches coaching. But not yet. Not nearly yet. Maybe someday he will find a head job that fits. Again, not nearly yet.
"I hadn't been excited about any of the opportunities that were out there for me," he said. "I've got to whistle, skip to work. I told coach Brown I'd join his staff; I'm back running, lifting weights. Honestly, there was one [college] job I was approached pretty hard for. To think about it, I went out for a run, tried to have a vision of that team in the Final Four, me coaching it. I began to run slower. I decided I wouldn't do that to a school; I wouldn't do that to me."
Look back in anger? Wonder why he wasn't given the opportunity to complete what he had seen as a five-year plan with the Nets?
"I won't do that," Calipari said. "I'm just moving on. I did the best job I could, I think [the Nets] are better off than when I got there. I did everything I could, gave every ounce I could. There's no reason to rehash any of it, to go over it, to try and redo it. It serves no purpose."
At the time, Nets owner Lewis Katz said he was trying to put Calipari out of his misery, to end his coach's seemingly unbearable frustration. Calipari said Katz and the other new owners of the franchise had put up $150 million and had a right to make whatever decisions they wished.
Calipari's tenure with the Nets was rocky, contentious, controversial. He had difficult relationships with, among others, team president Michael Rowe and assistant coach Don Casey (who emerged as his successor). He got off to a bad start when he delayed his introductory press conference because he was still discussing clauses in his contract. He was hamstrung by injuries to key players Jayson Williams, Sam Cassell, Kerry Kittles and Eric Murdock. He was criticized for what reporters viewed as preferential treatment for Cassell.
"I'm sure, in some eyes, me getting fired meant I wasn't a success, but I don't look at it that way," Calipari said. "I think I got a lot done. I won't say I didn't make mistakes, because this is a hard, hard business. But that door is closed; another door has opened."
It is a door to a city in which Calipari, 40, has had some problems. As the Umass coach, he had an incendiary incident with Temple coach John Chaney.
"I'll be fine," he said when he was fired. "If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me and my family, I'm a very blessed man."
That could be part of why he has no qualms about how he will be accepted with the Sixers.
"The fans here are great," Calipari said, insisting he is ready, willing and able to be an effective assistant. "I don't think it will be a problem. Before, I was the enemy. I'm not the enemy anymore."
HILADELPHIA (AP) - Calling him ``the finest young coach I've ever been associated with,'' Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown welcomed John Calipari aboard as his newest assistant Wednesday.
Brown, who gave Calipari his first college coaching job in 1982, said he feels the latest move should do nothing but benefit both the team and Calipari.
``I'm just excited about coaching again,'' said Calipari, who was fired after getting off to a 3-18 start last season with the New Jersey Nets; the year before that, he guided the team into the playoffs. ``You're talking about a talented young team here that's so well-coached.
``I started with (Brown) at Kansas. Now I'll be re-introduced to him and can see what changes he's made. But in terms of being an assistant again, after being a head coach, I was an assistant before I was a head coach. So I'll do whatever I can to help.''
According to Brown, what Calipari brings to the table is something special.
``I've been with some great ones but I think he's the whole package,'' Brown said. ``It bugged me that certain people say he failed in New Jersey last year. But he understands the game great. He's got great rapport with the players and is much more of an innovator than I ever hope to be.
``I want him to be like a head coach. I want all my assistants to be that way. But I don't think he'll be with us very long and that's OK with me.''
Calipari is making no commitments beyond this season. He said what happened in New Jersey is something he's already put behind him.
``Everyone has an opinion about what happened there,'' Calipari said. ``Hopefully, when they look back on it, they'll see things were better than when I took over.''
76ers president Pat Croce, seriously injured in a June motorcycle accident, made an appearance at the press conference. Croce, who has undergone three operations and a broken leg, hopes to be walking without any help in time for the team's Nov. 8 home opener against Seattle.