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Slur leads to coach's resignation

Dan Issel leaves after reaching a settlement with the Nuggets.

©Associated Press
December 27, 2001

DENVER -- Dan Issel accepted a buyout and resigned as coach and president of the Nuggets on Wednesday, two weeks after he was suspended for making an ethnic remark to a spectator.

The announcement came after Issel and general manager Kiki Vandeweghe finalized the details during private meetings.

"I think that he really believed that after a lot of soul searching, that perhaps coaching wasn't for him," Vandeweghe said at a news conference.

"Dan kind of came to terms with some things in his own life. And as long as I've known Dan, he's always done what's best for the organization."

Terms of the settlement were not released.

"I think the bottom line was he wasn't happy. That's the real reason," said center Raef LaFrentz, who has sometimes clashed with Issel.

Assistant Mike Evans, who has been serving as interim coach, will remain in charge.

Issel had been on a leave of absence since Saturday, hours before he was to return after a four-game suspension.

Issel made the remarks Dec.11 as he walked off the court after a loss to Charlotte. The coach responded to a taunt from the fan by yelling, "Go drink another beer, you Mexican (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.

Issel was to earn $2.5-million this season on a contract that 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. Issel also played for the Nuggets for 10 seasons and was their general manager.

Vandeweghe said he didn't believe Issel's suspension was the sole reason for his resignation.

"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."

Issel was not at the news conference to explain why he resigned.

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 hopes, "after a time period, Dan will remain with the Nuggets in some capacity."

Vandeweghe said the players, informed of the decision before Wednesday's game against 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."

"At least there's a sense of relief now," LaFrentz said. "We know who our coach is."

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