- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2000

BOSTON To hear him tell it, Gar Heard's short career with the Washington Wizards was simply a nightmare. The coach, who was fired at midseason, is glad to be away from the organization's constant turmoil, though he is bitter about how things ended.

Heard was involved in a power struggle with stars Rod Strickland and Juwan Howard and feels he received little support from the front office. The first-year coach was fired 44 games into the season, shortly after Michael Jordan took over as president of basketball operations.

"I was going up against two guys that personality-wise maybe we didn't match," said Heard, who would not identify the two by name but presumably was referring to Strickland and Howard. "I don't try to cater to two guys, unless they are going to win games with me. It's been proven those guys aren't going to win games with me."

Heard doesn't reflect too much these days on his short stay in Washington. He now is the top assistant for the Atlanta Hawks, and is in Boston this week helping new coach Lon Kruger adjust to the NBA summer league.

It was just a year ago in this same UMass-Boston gym that Heard started the job he had been working toward all his life. An assistant coach for 13 years after spending 11 seasons as a player in the NBA, Heard finally got a chance to put his own stamp on a team.

But the job quickly turned into a nightmare because of the regular confrontations with Strickland, Jordan taking over the club, lopsided losses and finally his firing on Jan. 31 when the Wizards had a 14-30 record.

"I'm disappointed in the way I didn't have the backing that I thought I would have," Heard said, referring to the front office. "I'm disappointed in the way things ended. I'm not really upset that it ended, because a guy [Jordan] comes in and he might want to put his own people in."

The biggest struggles came when Heard tried to instill a strong sense of discipline into veterans not used to it. Heard also offended his players by being an undiplomatic sort who openly criticized star players if he felt it was warranted. Shortly before he was ousted, he called his team "soft."

Heard believes that in trying to make the team into a more professional group, he was fighting the tone set by Strickland, whose poor work ethic, he said, carried over to the entire team.

"You can't have a team where one guy sets the standards for everybody else and it's not the standard you want to set," Heard said. "You have to be on time. You have to practice and you have to be part of the team."

Not surprisingly, Strickland took issue. The day after Heard's firing, the point guard suggested Heard just wasn't a good coach.

"If that happens this year, it's going to be the same thing," said Heard, who believes nonetheless that the situation could change if Jordan supports another highly disciplined coach in Leonard Hamilton. "[The players] are going to challenge a coach. If the coach has the backing behind him, it's going to be good. If not, it's going to be the same situation."

Heard calls his unhappy Wizards tenure a "learning experience" and plans to be much more selective if he is approached about another head coaching job. In retrospect, he feels he may have jumped too quickly when the Wizards came calling.

"If [another team is] committed to making the franchise better and win, I will look at it," said Heard, who still has two years left on a three-year deal with Washington believed to be worth $1.2 million a season. "If not, if I would get into a situation like I had before, I don't think I would take it."

Although Heard does not take it personally that he was fired by the newly appointed Jordan, he does have a problem with how it was executed. The 51-year-old coach was informed of his dismissal by general manager Wes Unseld rather than Jordan.

"I'm disappointed that he didn't call me, because I have never been in a situation where you don't at least talk to the coach," said Heard, who took the Atlanta job over several other possibilities as an assistant because he is from Georgia and his mother lives nearby. "I was disappointed at first. But right now, Washington is the last thing on my mind. I wish the guys there some of the guys well."

Heard hopes to get another shot at being a head coach in a more stable situation.

"I just think nobody, no coach in the world, can turn a team around in 44 games, especially with a team that has been struggling throughout the years," he said. "I just don't think I had an opportunity to do that."

Note The Wizards lost yesterday's summer league game to Milwaukee, 92-85. Free agent Laron Profit continued to put in a strong bid to return to the team by scoring 13 points. Point guard Milt Palacio also had 13 for Washington… . Draft pick Mike Smith looked much more comfortable than a day earlier, though he made only three of 14 shots from the floor for 11 points, collecting six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Michael Redd had 24 points for the Bucks.

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