O'Neill, four assistants fired by Raptors

Updated: April 17, 2004, 9:36 PM ET
Associated Press

TORONTO -- A day after coach Kevin O'Neill questioned the Toronto Raptors' commitment to winning, they fired him.

Kevin O'Neill

Interim general manager Jack McCloskey told O'Neill of the decision Friday.

O'Neill's job status was already shaky when, on Thursday, he said the franchise is just excited to be part of the NBA and not focused on winning.

"He said 'You know, Jack, I screwed up yesterday. You told me to play things cool. I made a mistake,"' McCloskey said.

The Raptors finished 33-49 this season and missed the playoffs for a second straight year. Toronto also fired general manager Glen Grunwald on April 1 after a rift between O'Neill and Grunwald became public.

Team president Richard Peddie said then that a new general manager would decide whether O'Neill would return, but the team decided not to wait.

"Kevin's remarks yesterday didn't go over too big with a lot of people," McCloskey said. "He said, 'I'm just so sorry I did it, I just go off. I just went off."'

On Friday, O'Neill tried to explain his comments.

"Some of my comments yesterday were out of frustration," he said. "I started giving advice and it turned out bad."

The team also fired assistant coaches Tony Brown, Bob Beyer, Jim Sann, and Ron Oliver.

A rift between O'Neill and Grunwald became public after a story in a local newspaper quoted unidentified sources, including former Raptors, saying that current players had grown tired of O'Neill's abrasive style.

"I'm not for everybody," O'Neill said. "I'm not a guy that walks down the hallway and is warm and fuzzy.

"If being dedicated to winning is abrasive, I'm abrasive."

McCloskey said O'Neill knew he might have worn out his welcome.

"Kevin said to me some time ago, he said 'You know ... it might be better if I weren't here. It's not going the way I want it to go and maybe it's better I left."

O'Neill became the fifth Toronto coach in June after being the top assistant with the Detroit Pistons under former coach Rick Carlisle.

The Raptors gave O'Neill a two-year, $3.5 million contract to replace Lenny Wilkens. He said he didn't reach an agreement on a buy out, and that he expected to be paid next seasons salary.

O'Neill had never been a head coach in the NBA, but he was 190-197 as a college coach at Northwestern, Tennessee and Marquette.

He also served as an assistant to Jeff Van Gundy in New York.

The Raptors were in the playoff hunt this season until they were hit by a rash of injuries -- including leg injuries that sidelined Vince Carter.

Carter missed nine games and the team went 0-9 in his absence. Jalen Rose missed 16 games with a broken left hand, and Alvin Williams sat out 25 games with ankle and knee troubles.

The Raptors finished last in the league in scoring, and second to last in rebounding.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press