The Herald Bulletin

April 27, 2007

MIKE BEAS: Pacers, Bird need right decision on next coach


As e-mails from the Indiana Pacers went, this one came across as eerily blunt. Seventeen words in all, which sent up a flare that Rick Carlisle’s days as head coach were over.

It went something like this:

What: press conference. Who: Larry Bird. Where: Conseco Fieldhouse. When: Wednesday, 2 p.m.

Ransom notes pack more personality.

Sure enough, at 2 o’clock sharp, Bird verified that Carlisle’s tenure, a grab bag of chaos featuring some of the NBA’s mixed nuts, would be coming to an end after four seasons that, in truth, must have seemed like 14 to Carlisle.

Only 47, Carlisle looks older. The man has not aged gracefully these past few years, and only part of it has been self-inflicted.

Carlisle is the latest domino to tumble at the hand of former Pacers forward Ron Artest, whose brain lapse at The Palace of Auburn Hills in November 2004 continues to jump up and bite the franchise where the sun don’t dare shine.

Pack the family and the sunscreen, and take a vacation, Rick. A long one. You deserve it.

Red Auerbach in his prime would have slammed his bald head against the locker room wall more than a few times had he been dealt the hand you were dealt.

Artest. Stephen Jackson. Jamaal Tinsley. The well-past-his-prime version of Reggie Miller.

There’s no guarantee respected modern-day coaches like Pat Riley or Phil Jackson would have stayed on course test-driving this jalopy, either.

The question now is: Where does the franchise go from here? The Pacers and what fans they have left have discovered quicksand and need a branch to wrap their hopes around.

It’s impossible to read Bird’s mind (not that I would want to), so most of us don’t have a clue as to who the next head coach will be.

All we know is it won’t be Mel Daniels, Dick Versace, Jack McKinney or Larry Staverman.

Bird clearly isn’t the master talent/character evaluator everyone thought he would be, which leads me to believe his choice to succeed Carlisle is going to be greeted with one massive shoulder shrug followed by the entire state of Indiana going ... “Who?”

Hopefully, Bird possesses enough foresight to chip Indiana from the offensive glacier it’s been in the past few seasons and hire a seasoned assistant coach from one of the free-wheeling Western Conference heavyweights — Dallas, Phoenix or San Antonio.

The Pacers might not return to prominence overnight, but at least they would be enjoyable to watch, something they haven’t been in some time.

As for player personnel, thanks, Jermaine O’Neal, for seven seasons of service, but it’s time to go. You might be well into your 30s by the time the Pacers’ ship again sails deep into the playoffs, and, frankly, you deserve better.

Tinsley ... just go. I don’t care where.

The Indiana Pacers are a suitcase full of question marks, but they’ve been down this potholed road before quickly turning things around.

In 1987, the franchise won 15 more games than it did the previous season. The 1997 squad posted 39 victories, or 19 fewer than the ’98 Pacers, while the leap in “W’s” from 2003 to 2004 was 13.

It can be done. It’s been done.

But if Bird doesn’t hit it over the fence with his choice of a coach, we may wake up tomorrow and realize we’re cheering for our very own version of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Then we’ll all look back at the Rick Carlisle Era as the good old days.

Sports Editor Mike Beas can be reached at mike.beas@heraldbulletin.com.