|Saturday, December 8
Updated: December 9, 8:28 AM ET
Van Gundy quits; Chaney reportedly will finish season
PURCHASE, N.Y. -- Jeff Van Gundy resigned unexpectedly as head coach of the New York Knicks on Saturday, just as the team was playing its best basketball of the season.
The stunning decision came a day after Van Gundy angrily ended practice early because he thought his players lacked intensity. He said he had been considering resigning since the summer and finally decided to do so because he had "lost focus" as a coach.
"In my heart I knew what was right, but it was still a difficult decision to come to," Van Gundy said at the Knicks' practice facility.
"I didn't feel my focus was at its best. I didn't want to hurt our team. I certainly don't regret the effort I put forth. I just think it's time to step back and let the team move on."
Van Gundy said he spoke with team president Scott Layden several times since the summer to express how he was feeling and that he decided Wednesday -- the day after a 14-point road victory over Milwaukee -- that he was going to quit.
He's the first NBA coach to resign or be fired this season.
"I'm going to step back and exhale for the first time in 13 years," Van Gundy said. "When I told my daughter today, she said: 'Does this mean you get to have lunch with me?' So that's cool."
Van Gundy told the players of his decision at their morning shootaround.
Van Gundy took the Knicks to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons, including a trip to the 1999 NBA Finals and two trips to the Eastern Conference finals.
Assistant Don Chaney coached New York to a 101-99 win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night.
At first it was announced that Chaney would take the reins for only Saturday's game at the Garden, but the New York Daily News reports that Chaney will coach the Knicks the rest of the season, with an announcement coming today or Monday.
"Don will coach the game (Saturday) and we will inform you as to when we make a decision," Layden said. "We're going to answer those questions in due time."
The Knicks won five of their last six games to move above .500 entering Saturday's game.
The 39-year-old Van Gundy had been a member of the Knicks' staff since 1989, serving as an assistant under Pat Riley, Don Nelson and Stu Jackson.
Van Gundy's only other head coaching job was at McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, N.Y.
He leaves as the third-winningest coach in team history with a record of 248-172, including 10-9 this season, his seventh.
"He said he wanted to spend more time with his family. He's a little burned out," guard Howard Eisley said.
Van Gundy said burnout wasn't the correct word, but he had trouble coming up with a full explanation. He spoke to the media for almost an hour, nervously shaking his foot as he sat on a table outside the gymnasium and interjecting several humorous lines.
"My legacy is not being a great peacemaker in big man altercations," said Van Gundy, who got in the middle of fights between Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning during the 1998 playoffs and between Marcus Camby and Danny Ferry last season.
In the first scuffle, Van Gundy grabbed Mourning by the legs and was tossed around like a rag doll until the fight ended. In the second one, he was head-butted above the eye by Camby after the center threw a punch at Ferry and missed.
Van Gundy said some of his best memories include the fans chanting his name during the 1999 playoffs, his first coaching victory -- over Chicago in 1996 when the Bulls were on the way to a 72-win season -- and the Knicks' trips to the league finals in 1994 and 1999.
"Trying to quantify why it's the right decision is very difficult," he said. "I didn't have the focus that I would want, although I don't think others noticed it."
Van Gundy had two years remaining on his contract and was due to be paid about $7.5 million. He said he had no idea what his future holds but added that he loves coaching in the NBA.
Van Gundy is known as one of the league's hardest working coaches. He routinely reported to work at dawn and spent hours reviewing videotape and preparing game plans.
Van Gundy received an unsolicited vote of confidence from Layden during the team's West Coast road trip almost three weeks ago. The next day, though, Van Gundy publicly disagreed with Layden's glowing assessment of his performance.
Two weeks ago, Van Gundy used the phrase "mailing it in" to describe the Knicks' effort in certain games this season.
New York was coming off its biggest win of the season -- a 14-point road victory over the Milwaukee Bucks -- but is about to begin a much tougher stretch of its schedule.
"We are surprised and disappointed by Jeff's decision to leave the organization suddenly after 13 years," Layden said in a statement.
Van Gundy took over the head coaching duties midway through the 1995-96 season after Don Nelson was fired. He nearly lost his job on more than one occasion but always managed to hang on, outlasting former general manager Ernie Grunfeld, former Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts and even Patrick Ewing, the franchise center traded away two summers ago.
Van Gundy, who is married and has a 6-year-old daughter, at times this season seemed more somber than in the past.
Farrell Lynch, Van Gundy's college teammate and roommate from Nazareth College, worked for the bond trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald and was killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Van Gundy was close to Rick Pitino's brother-in-law, Bill Minardi, who also died Sept. 11.
"He said (resigning) was something he was going back and forth with," forward Kurt Thomas said. "I think he has a lot of things going on with his family and with the World Trade incident. There were a lot of things piled on that he felt he had to walk away from."