Ruland to coach D-League's Albuquerque Thunderbirds

Updated: July 18, 2007, 11:41 AM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

For the second time in as many months, the NBA Development League filled a head coaching opening with a former college coach.

Closer Look: Ruland at Iona

Former NBA All-Star Jeff Ruland's Iona Gaels were 2-28, including 1-17 in the MAAC, in the 2006-07 season, but his tenure at the school as a whole was successful. Some of the highlights:

• 139-135 record in nine seasons
• Three NCAA tourney berths (2000, '01, '06)
• Three MAAC titles

Tuesday, former Iona coach Jeff Ruland agreed to be the head coach of the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, Ruland and team owner David Kahn of Southwest Basketball LLC told ESPN.com.

A news conference to announce Ruland's hiring is expected Wednesday.

Last month, Kahn hired former Missouri coach Quin Snyder to coach the Austin Toros. That came before Kahn's group sold the Toros to the San Antonio Spurs on draft day.

"More and more I sense college coaches have become more frustrated that their jobs aren't about basketball anymore but more about recruiting and everything else," said Kahn, a former general manager of the Indiana Pacers. "Coaches want to develop players and now the NCAA is monitoring the court time in the offseason. People want to work in basketball and develop these kids and they've got more of an opportunity to do that here than they would in college. The recruiting part is now eliminated. And for Jeff and Quin, they were excited to return to their roots."

Ruland was run out of Iona after coaching the Gaels to a 2-28 record last season, 1-17 in the MAAC. But Ruland had a successful run with his alma mater, coaching Iona to three NCAA tournament berths in his nine years as head coach.

Ruland did receive a healthy settlement, though, reportedly receiving $1.3 million from Iona.

"I can't see myself sitting on the couch," Ruland said. "I love coaching and this is a whole other experience. I'm going to embrace it and see where it leads. I can't comment on how Iona ended, but we had good years and it was a good experience."

The 48-year old Ruland will replace Michael Cooper, who coached the Thunderbirds last season.

"I've always wanted to coach in that league but my phone hasn't rung before," Ruland said of the NBA. "I was a very, very good player and God blessed me with good size. I knew the game and I've embraced it. I'm just taking it one day at a time and I'm not looking too far ahead."

Ruland had an injury-riddled career but lasted eight years in the NBA, becoming an All-Star twice. His glory years were with the Washington Bullets from 1981-86, including four straight years in the playoffs where he averaged 18.4 points a game.

"I would be stunned if he's not in the NBA on a bench head coaching in the next three years or as an assistant in a year," Kahn said. "He has the right personality to handle the locker room and be an effective communicator. He doesn't take himself too seriously and he's much smarter than he lets on. It helps that he's 6-9 because he has a presence. This will be a brief stopover for him in his return to the NBA."

The D-League has 14 teams. Most teams have multiple affiliations with NBA teams (the Thunderbirds have ties to the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers). The ultimate goal, Kahn said, is for the D-League to have 30 teams with a one-to-one affiliation for a true minor-league system.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com