76ers hire Ayers as new coach

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 22, 2003

PHILADELPHIA - Randy Ayers waited and hoped while the Philadelphia 76ers pursued other candidates to replace Larry Brown.

One by one, the top choices dropped out of the running and Ayers was left standing.

The assistant was promoted to head coach Friday, taking over a team that went to the NBA Finals two years ago.

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The former Ohio State coach spent the last six seasons as Brown's assistant. Brown resigned last month and is now the Detroit Pistons' coach.

''There were a lot of good candidates,'' team president Billy King said. ''Randy was the best guy.''

He takes over a team that went 48-34 last season and won a first-round playoff series against New Orleans before losing to Detroit in six games.

''I feel I have a good relationship with all of the players,'' Ayers said, stressing he has developed a bond with Allen Iverson, Eric Snow and Aaron McKie.

Brown, a Hall of Famer, took Philadelphia to the finals in his fourth season. But injuries, questionable personnel moves and clashes with Iverson have hindered the team since.

During a news conference, Ayers was asked to explain the biggest difference between Brown and him. Before he could respond, 76ers chairman Ed Snider interjected: ''The biggest difference is he won't quit each year'' - a clear swipe at Brown, who threatened to quit after each season and at least once during the season.

''I have great respect for Coach Brown,'' Ayers said. ''The biggest thing he taught me was game management. He managed the game better than any coach I've been around. But we will be more up-tempo. We want to push the ball with the guards and be more creative.''

Ayers also said he wants the team to take more 3-pointers. Brown wasn't a fan of the shot.

Ayers was far down on King's list of potential coaches. King initially tried to get permission to speak to Portland coach Maurice Cheeks, a former 76ers' star. Also, former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said they weren't interested in the job after speaking to King. Van Gundy took over in Houston.

King also interviewed former New Jersey Nets assistant Eddie Jordan, who was hired by Washington on Thursday, former Atlanta coach Mike Fratello, Hawks interim coach Terry Stotts, 76ers assistant Mike Woodson and Miami Heat assistant Bob McAdoo.

King was most impressed by Ayers' preparation and communication skills.

''The grass isn't always greener on the other side,'' King said.

Ayers went 124-108 as coach of the Buckeyes for eight years. He led Ohio State to four postseason appearances and was the AP Coach of the Year in 1991 after the Buckeyes went 27-4 and won the first of consecutive Big Ten championships.

His stay at Ohio State ended with four consecutive losing seasons and off-court troubles. As a result of 17 rules violations, the Buckeyes were put on probation by the NCAA.

Only 15 of the 33 players Ayers brought into the basketball program exhausted their eligibility. And many got into trouble with the law.

After Ayers was fired, five of his recruits were dismissed or left the program with the approval of his successor, Jim O'Brien.

''We had some good years and some not-so-good years,'' Ayers said. ''I take full responsibility for the not-so-good years. I didn't have patience with the younger players.''

Snow, McKie and Keith Van Horn were among the six players that attended Ayers' news conference. Iverson, perhaps thinking he was going to practice, arrived late.

''He's somebody who knows the players, knows what we're about, knows our style,'' Iverson said. ''Plus, he's been under the best coach in the world for years, so he had to learn something.''