|Wednesday, December 26
Issel accepts buyout, resigns from Nuggets
DENVER -- Since 1975, Dan Issel had been synonymous with the Denver Nuggets, first as a player, then as general manager, president and -- twice -- as head coach.
That relationship ended Wednesday when Issel accepted a buyout and resigned as president and coach, two weeks after he was suspended for making an insensitive ethnic remark to a spectator.
The announcement came after Issel and general manager Kiki Vandeweghe finalized the details of Issel's departure in private meetings.
"I think, after a lot of soul-searching, Dan realized that perhaps coaching wasn't for him," Vandeweghe said at a news conference.
"Dan went through a lot of emotions. He kind of came to terms with some things in his life. For as long as I've known Dan, he's always done what's best for the organization. This was entirely Dan's decision."
Terms of the settlement were not released.
"I think the bottom line was, he wasn't happy, he wasn't happy coaching," center Raef LaFrentz said. "That's the real reason."
Assistant coach Mike Evans, who has been serving as interim coach, will remain in charge of the team.
Issel was not at the press conference to explain his reasons for resigning.
He did, however, release a statement through the Nuggets that read:
"After talking with Kiki and other members of the organization, as well as my family, I have decided it is best for the organization and for me to step aside."
Issel had been on a leave of absence since Saturday, hours before he was to return to coaching after a four-game suspension.
Issel made the remarks Dec. 11 as he walked off the court after a loss to the Charlotte Hornets, the Nuggets' fifth in a row. He responded to a taunt from the fan by yelling back, "Go drink another beer, you Mexican ... ," adding an expletive.
The next day, the team suspended Issel for four games without pay, costing him more than $112,000.
Issel apologized to the Hispanic community in public and private, and to the city of Denver and its residents.
Issel was to earn $2.5 million this year on a contract that would have expired after next season.
This is the second time Issel has resigned as the Nuggets' coach. In 1995, he resigned 34 games into his third season as coach. Issel also played for the Nuggets for 10 seasons and was their general manager.
Issel's two-term coaching record in Denver was 180-208, making him the third-winningest in club history.
Vandeweghe said he didn't believe Issel's suspension was the sole reason for his resignation. Issel has had problems before with his players, including an episode last season when the team boycotted a practice.
"Head coaching in this league is a lot of pressure," Vandeweghe said. "I think Dec. 11 might have just been the result of some of the pressures. We had gone through a rough stretch where we had lost a few in a row, and that builds up. His decision, I don't think, had a lot to do with that incident. I think it was more an overall thing.
"I did sense that Dan was troubled by some things and, at times, a little frustrated. Dan being the competitor he is, when he's not winning, he's frustrated."
Asked why the Nuggets felt compelled to reach a settlement with a coach who resigned, Vandeweghe said, "A combination of reasons. I can't go into the terms, but I think the Nuggets really feel that they didn't want Dan to walk away completely. We felt it was the right thing to do."
Vandeweghe said he hoped that, "after a time period, Dan will remain with the Nuggets in some capacity."
Vandeweghe said the Nuggets players, informed of the decision before Wednesday night's 94-91 loss to Minnesota, had a "mixed" reaction.
"Some of the players were saddened by it because they had grown close to Dan," Vandeweghe said. "As competitors, most players like to have a resolution, so I think they were happy that we had a resolution."
Said LaFrentz, "At least there's a sense of relief now. We know who our coach is."
LaFrentz, who clashed with Issel earlier in his career, insisted that "this year our relationship was good."
The Nuggets lost their final five games under Issel, then won two straight after he was suspended. They lost their next three games, however, and brought a record of 9-17 into their game Wednesday night against Minnesota.
State Sen. Rob Hernandez, who first called for Issel to resign but supported him after his apologies, said he hopes Issel stays involved with the team and the city.
"I think there are lessons we've all learned, not just the Hispanic community, but the Denver community at large. I think the Denver community grew a tremendous amount through all of this. And I still want to see Dan Issel involved."