OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Mark Jackson came to the Golden State Warriors talking big and brash. He promised playoff appearances and championships trophies, and he delivered plenty of wins along the way.
Away from the court, though, Jackson never backed down from doing things how he wanted. His inability to mesh with management increasingly overshadowed all the wins – and ultimately cost him his job.
The Warriors fired Jackson after three seasons Tuesday, ending the franchise’s most successful coaching tenure in the past two decades.
General manager Bob Myers thanked Jackson, saying he helped make the Warriors a more attractive franchise. But Myers said the decision to dismiss Jackson was “unanimous” among the team’s executives, in part because the Warriors want a coach who can “develop a synergy” with everybody in basketball operations.
“You’re never sure of anything. But I do know that we have a lot of conviction in the decisions we make,” Myers said. “We wouldn’t have made this decision if we didn’t believe it didn’t help the organization move forward.”
Jackson’s time with the Warriors will be remembered for the way he helped turn a perennially losing franchise into a consistent winner and the bold and bombastic way in which he did it.
He guaranteed Golden State would make the playoffs in his first season, then finished 23-36 after the NBA labor lockout. The Warriors went 47-35 last season and had a memorable run to the second round of the playoffs, and they were 51-31 this season before losing in seven games to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
The Warriors had not made the playoffs in consecutive years since 1991-92. They had made the postseason once in 17 years before Jackson arrived.
Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob said in a statement that the team “must make some difficult decisions in our day-to-day operations of the club and this would certainly qualify as one of those examples.”
The Warriors will begin a coaching search immediately. Former NBA player and TNT broadcaster Steve Kerr, former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg and Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie could be among the top candidates.
Myers said the Warriors know a new coach comes with the risk of disrupting team chemistry, especially considering nearly every player publicly called for Jackson to return. Myers spoke to several players after he and Lacob informed Jackson of their decision in a meeting Tuesday morning.
“They’ve seen some good things that have happened in the last three years – Mark Jackson being one of them. The hope and belief after talking to them is that they trust us and they believe that we make decisions to win as well,” Myers said.
Jackson took to Twitter to thank the organization, players and fans. Several of his present and past players also applauded the job he had done.
Jackson, a former NBA point guard who had his best seasons with the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, had never been a head coach at any level when Lacob hired him away from the ESPN/ABC broadcast table in June 2011. A minister who runs a church with his wife near their Southern California home, Jackson often spoke of his Christian beliefs while surprisingly turning the Warriors into one of the NBA’s best defensive teams.
But Jackson’s boisterous personality at times did not play well with Warriors management, his staff and – to a much lesser extent – his players, most of whom said they wanted him to return, especially star Stephen Curry. And his attitude, which bordered on confidence and cockiness, also came off as increasingly insecure when the team struggled.
The Warriors still stuck by Jackson even when he created news off the court, including when reports surfaced in June 2012 that he and his family were the targets of an extortion attempt related to an extramarital affair he had six years prior, which led to questions about his credibility and morals.
The pressure on Jackson really heated up when the Warriors decided to pick up his contract option for the 2014-15 season last summer instead of negotiating a long-term deal as he had wanted. Management also encouraged Jackson to hire a strong tactician after top assistant Michael Malone – who had several disagreements with Jackson – left to become the coach of the Sacramento Kings.
Instead, Jackson promoted Pete Myers and other assistants and hired Lindsey Hunter and Brian Scalabrine. And while reports of rifts within the team surfaced on occasion, dismissing two assistants in a 12-day stretch before the playoffs perpetuated the idea that Jackson had fostered an environment of dysfunction – which Jackson repeatedly refuted.
The Warriors reassigned Scalabrine to the team’s NBA Development League affiliate in Santa Cruz on March 25 because of what Jackson called a “difference in philosophies.” Then, the Warriors fired Darren Erman on April 5 for reportedly recording conversations during coaches’ meetings and discussions between coaches and players without their knowledge.
Several home losses to lesser teams frustrated Lacob more than anything and cost the Warriors a chance to earn anything more than the sixth playoff seed, which they also had a year ago when they upset Denver in the first round before falling to San Antonio. The Warriors still showed a lot of fight – and an ability to make adjustments – with center Andrew Bogut out with a fractured right rib in the playoffs, pushing the third-seeded Clippers to seven games.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he was stunned to hear the Warriors fired Jackson.
“George Karl was Coach of the Year last year and got fired,” Rivers said. “Mark Jackson gets a team to multiple playoffs for the first time in a thousand years, and then gets fired. It’s our job. It’s a tough job, and I think everybody knows it now more than ever.”
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City contributed.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP