Indiana Pacers President Donnie Walsh said this afternoon that he’s stepping down after 22 years at the team’s helm.
“I think I’ve been here too long,” said Walsh, who arrived at the Pacers in 1984 as an assistant coach. He was elevated to general manager two years later and named president in 1988. “It’s just the right time for me to leave.”
Walsh, 67, will do just that at the end of the season, or possibly sooner if he lands another job. He said the team will benefit from having a single voice, that of Larry Bird, as president of basketball operations.
Walsh, Bird and team co-owner Herb Simon announced the move this afternoon at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The Pacers still plan to hire another general manager, most likely someone from inside the organization, to handle the team’s business operations, Bird said in an interview after the announcement.
Bird’s mission: Win back fans and restore the team’s winning ways.
It won’t be easy, thanks to several years of dust-ups involving players, and faltering team performance. Indiana is last in the NBA in attendance for 2008, with an average of about 12,000 fans for home games.
But Bird isn’t deterred.
“I have no doubt in my ability to lead and get this team back to an elite level,” he said.
Bird says the solution is to find players who’ll work hard and help revive the “deep pride” that has “sort of gone away” for Pacers fans.
Co-owner Herb Simon said the franchise has to do better on and off the court.
“We really want to reconnect with this city and our fans,” he said. “We’ve had a disconnect.”
Although recent years had strained the franchise, Walsh presided over 17 playoff appearances in his 22 years leading the team. Those playoff appearances included a trip to the NBA Finals in 2000.
“I’m completing what has been my dream job,” he said.
Walsh would not address speculation about his future, including the possibility he might take over as president of the New York Knicks. Walsh is a native New Yorker.
For more, go to IBJ’s sports blog, The Score.