The Golden State Warriors fired head coach Eric Musselman on Wednesday night and have an agreement in place for Stanford coach Mike Montgomery to be his replacement, league sources told ESPN.com.
"It's been a great two years. The players have played their
hearts out," Musselman told The Associated Press in a cell phone interview Wednesday
night. "The organization's headed in great direction. ... I got an opportunity of a lifetime and will always be grateful to the Warriors for that."
Also on Thursday, the Warriors named Rod Higgins general manager to replace Garry St. Jean, who was stripped of his duties and moved into a new role with the team. Chris Mullin, the Warriors executive vice president of basketball operations, was to formally announce the hiring of Higgins and firing of Musselman at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
Higgins was a teammae of Mullin's on the Warriors and was assistant general manager for the Wizards under Michael Jordan.
Mullin told ESPN.com on Thursday that serious discussions with Montgomery are ongoing and that an announcement about the Golden State head coaching position could come as soon as Friday.
A source close to Montgomery, 57, confirmed for ESPN.com on Thursday that he shook on a deal with Warriors owner Chris Cohan. The multimillion-dollar deal, believed to be for four years, was still being finalized Thursday afternoon.
The Cardinal and its coaching staff are aware that Montgomery will take the Warriors post, but Montgomery was still at Stanford as of Thursday afternoon.
Stanford will not hold a news conference on Montgomery's status until the Warriors announce his hiring.
Musselman, 39, told the AP that he learned his fate at 7:15 p.m. PT Mullin.
"This was a difficult decision," Mullin said in a statement Thursday.
"This team certainly showed some progress the last couple of years
and Eric should be given some of the credit."
Reached earlier in the evening in Florida by ESPN.com, Musselman said that he hadn't talked to Mullin in two weeks and that Mullin had been noncommittal on his and his staff's status.
Musselman, who had one year remaining on his contract, went 75-89 in two seasons with the Warriors, his first NBA head coaching job. He finished second in the league's Coach of the Year voting in 2002-03 after guiding Golden State to a 38-44 record.
Musselman told ESPN.com that hiring Montgomery would make sense since, to his knowledge, the Warriors hadn't been talking to anyone within the NBA about replacing him. It would be a bold hire for Mullin, given the relative lack of success for coaches making the jump from college to the NBA; however, Montgomery is regarded as one of the college game's foremost X's-and-O's men.
Sources told ESPN.com that Stanford athletic director Ted Leland was called out of a Pac-10 properties meeting in Los Angeles and left abruptly, saying he had to return to campus to deal with pressing issues.
Montgomery is one of the most successful active college basketball coaches and is coming off a remarkable season, during which the Cardinal went 30-2 and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Alabama in the second round. The Cardinal won 26 straight before losing their regular-season finale at Washington.
Montgomery, who is under contract at Stanford through the 2007-08 season, is 393-167 in 18 seasons on the Farm and 547-244 overall.
He was honored in April with the John Wooden "Legends of Coaching" Lifetime Achievement Award at the Wooden Award banquet in Los Angeles; he was choked up and humbled upon accepting the award from Wooden.
Montgomery coached NBA players when he was an assistant with the 2002 World Championship team that did not medal in Indianapolis. Considered one of the sharpest coaching minds in the business, Montgomery has been increasingly hardened by the defection of his players to the NBA. The Cardinal lost Jason Collins, Curtis Borchardt, Casey Jacobsen, and now it appears Josh Childress, early to the NBA in the last three years.
In taking the Warriors job, Montgomery will try to change a recent trend of college coaches -- namely Tim Floyd, Lon Kruger, John Calipari and Rick Pitino -- who left prominent Division I jobs and failed in the NBA.
Nonetheless, Mullin wanted to make a splash with this hire. Montgomery is well respected in the Bay Area and would not have to move to take the Warriors job.
With Montgomery's exit, Stanford's job becomes one of the most attractive openings in the country. With or without Childress, the Cardinal are expected to compete with Arizona for the Pac-10 title.
Nevada coach Trent Johnson, a former Stanford assistant who just signed an extension with the Wolf Pack, would be a candidate. So, too, would Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who has looked at the Stanford job as one of Division I's most coveted positions. Rice coach Willis Wilson, also a former Stanford assistant, likely would be in the mix, too.
The Stanford job likely would attract some of the top names in the business who have a history of working with academically rich, highly skilled basketball players. The Cardinal's recruiting pool is consistently considered one of the smallest in the country for a high-major program.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.