Scott Skiles is out as Milwaukee Bucks head coach and the team says veteran assistant Jim Boylan will take over for the rest of the season.
General manager John Hammond made it official Tuesday, hours before the Bucks hosted Phoenix.
"Scott and I met yesterday after practice and after some honest discussion, we both came to the conclusion that it was best to part ways," Hammond said. "It is never an easy decision to make, but in the end a decision we felt was best for both parties."
Skiles had a 162-182 record in four-plus seasons with Milwaukee, with one playoff appearance — a first-round loss to Atlanta in seven games during the 2009-10 season. He was a hard-nosed, defensive-minded coach who sometimes seemed to have difficulty meshing with a roster built around volume shooters Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
"John and I met and mutually agreed that a coaching change would be in the best interest of both parties," Skiles said. "I believe this team can and will have success in the next 50 games and postseason. I want to thank the players for all of their hard work. I wish them all the best."
Hammond downplayed any suggestion that the locker room was fractured or that he didn't get along with Skiles.
"Scott and I did not have a frosty relationship. Scott did not hate this team," said Hammond, who noted that more than half the season remains. "We're not a team in dire straits ... we're expecting good things to happen."
Two other coaches, the Lakers' Mike Brown and Brooklyn's Avery Johnson, are also out of work in this young season. Brown was fired after five games and Johnson late last month, about three weeks after being named Eastern Conference coach of the month.
The 57-year-old Boylan has been the lead assistant coach for the Bucks the past four seasons. He was the interim head coach of the Chicago Bulls for the final 56 games of the 2007-08 season, finishing 24-32. In a 20-year NBA coaching career, he has also been an assistant in Cleveland, Vancouver, Phoenix, Atlanta and Chicago.
The Bucks had lost four straight games and took a 16-16 record into Tuesday night's home game against Phoenix. Milwaukee started out a surprising 6-2, only to lose seven of its next nine. The Bucks followed that with a four-game winning streak, the kind of wild swings that didn't sit well with a coach who values consistency — both in play and preparation.
"The real challenge is we've had a couple of years in a row where ... we didn't buy into our defensive system," Skiles said before the season began. "If we do that, we'll be a good defensive team. If we don't, we won't. That's the real challenge, getting guys to buy in on that on the floor, give the effort, focus and concentrate as necessary to be a good defensive team."
Skiles did help coax a breakout season out of Larry Sanders, who has emerged as a rebounding and shot-blocking monster over the last few weeks. The demanding coach pushed Sanders to be more consistent, and the lanky forward/center has responded. He grabbed 20 rebounds against Boston on Dec. 21 to start a string of double-digit rebound nights in five of his last eight games and leads the league with 3.07 blocks per game.
Skiles' focus on defence was always going to be tested by a roster revolving around Jennings and Ellis, two flashy scorers who prefer to get up and down the court and lure opposing teams into shootouts. Jennings and Ellis have been giving plenty of effort, but the Bucks were in the middle of the pack in points allowed per game (15th) and field goal percentage defense (18th), below Skiles' lofty expectations.
Still, the Bucks entered Tuesday just three games behind Indiana in the Central Division, despite injuries to Beno Udrih and top defender Luc Mbah A Moute, and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. The situation appeared to finally reach the breaking point after a 95-80 loss to the Pacers in Indiana on Saturday night.
Overall, Skiles is 443-433 as an NBA head coach in 12-plus seasons, which also includes stints with the Chicago Bulls and the Phoenix Suns. His exit in Milwaukee follows a similar path as his other head coaching stints. He lasted about two and a half seasons in Phoenix and was out 25 games into his fifth season with the Chicago Bulls in 2007-08 — with Boylan stepping in to take over.
Skiles' departure could be the first in a series of big shake-ups for the Bucks. John Hammond is in the final year of his deal, while Jennings and Ellis can both become restricted free agents after this season.