BOSTON – The Boston Celtics, stung by their early exit in the NBA playoffs, reacted quickly Tuesday by firing Coach Jimmy Rodgers only two days after an improbable loss to the New York Knicks.
“This has been a very difficult and trying time for all of us,” General Manager Jan Volk said. “We felt that we needed to make a change, and in the interest of all concerned we felt it necessary to do so as quickly as possible.
“Jimmy has been an integral part of our success throughout the ’80s, and hopefully this parting will not diminish recognition of his contributions.”
Rodgers would only say that he was shocked and refused further comment.
Also fired was assistant coach Lanny Van Eman. Chris Ford, an assistant and former Celtic player was being retained, will be considered as a replacement for Rodgers, Volk said.
The shakeup came just 48 hours after the Celtics were ousted from the NBA playoffs – the first time since 1952 they were eliminated in the first round in successive seasons. Even worse, the loss marked the first time the Celtics had lost at home to the Knicks in 27 games – more than six years.
The Celtics were swept in the first round last season by the Detroit Pistons, who went on to win the NBA championship.
“Right now we’re also going to take some time to set various options and look at various candidates,” Volk said. “We don’t have a precise timetable for naming a successor, but Chris Ford will be a very serious candidate.”
“I’m interested, of course,” said Ford, a Celtics assistant since 1983 who was head coach for four victories in Rodgers’ absence during the season.
“At least I wasn’t fired today,” Ford said. “I just don’t know what they want to talk about yet.”
“I didn’t expect the coach to be let go,” said center Robert Parish, adding he had expected some player changes.
And Kevin McHale, a member of three NBA championship teams along with Parish and Larry Bird, also said he was very surprised.
“I feel bad for Jimmy. I knew that they were going to do something but I didn’t expect anything this soon,” McHale told WCVB-TV.
In two regular seasons under Rodgers, the Celtics were 94-70, but they were 2-6 in playoff games.
After taking a 2-0 lead in their best-of-5 series with the Knicks, the Celtics were ousted on Sunday, 121-114, with a loss at Boston Garden.
The Celtics won nine of their final 10 games of the regular season.
In Rodgers’ last victory, 157-128 on April 28 in Boston, the Celtics set an NBA playoff record for points and shooting accuracy (67 percent).
The 47-year-old Rodgers, a 1965 Iowa graduate, was a three-year starter with the Hawkeyes. He began his coaching career at North Dakota, where he was an assistant to Bill Fitch. He replaced Fitch in 1967, going 39-33 during the next three years. In 1970, Rodgers spent one season at Arkansas as an assistant to Van Eman.
Between 1971-72 and 1977-78, Rodgers was a scout and an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers and was reunited with Fitch, who later coached the Celtics.
Rodgers, from Franklin Park, Ill., joined the Celtics after Fitch’s departure in 1983, assisting K.C. Jones for five years until he was appointed head coach in May 1988.