The Indiana Pacers fired coach Jim O'Brien on Sunday morning.
O'Brien's firing comes after the Pacers lost seven of their past eight games to drop to 10th place in the Eastern Conference. After a strong start to the season, the Pacers have faded in recent weeks and O'Brien's abrasive and erratic coaching style became a greater issue within the organization, league sources said. The front office wasn't happy with how O'Brien had publicly chastised promising young center Roy Hibbert(notes), despite the player's earnest efforts to improve.
Assistant coach Frank Vogel will take over as interim coach for the remainder of the season, but multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports that former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown – once a Pacers assistant – will be a primary focus of the search to replace O'Brien on a long-term basis.
Brown was Rick Carlisle's top assistant in Indiana from 2003-05 and sources said he has remained well-regarded by Pacers management.
Utah Jazz assistant coach Ty Corbin is also expected to be a strong candidate, sources said.
Pacers president Larry Bird had no interest in returning to the bench as a coach. Despite leading the Pacers to the NBA Finals during his three-year run run as head coach, Bird had an elite coaching staff that included Carlisle and Dick Harter. O'Brien had a much more inexperienced and unaccomplished staff. Nevertheless, Bird never considered a return to the bench, even as interim coach.
Bird has been coy publicly and privately about his desire to stay on the job past this season. He's used former Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard as a consultant in recent months to scout college players and observe the Pacers on a recent West Coast trip to give feedback. Pritchard has privately angled for a prominent front-office job with the Pacers since falling out of Portland ownership's graces last summer, sources said.
After getting fired in Portland in June, Pritchard has been rebuffed in his attempts to get involved with jobs with the New Orleans Hornets and the New Jersey Nets. The future of Pacers GM David Morway may be tied to Bird, although the plan could be for Pritchard and Morway to co-exist in the front office, sources said. For now, there's much uncertainty.
O'Brien was fired in a meeting with Bird on Sunday morning. The Pacers hired O'Brien to replace Carlisle after the 2006-07 season. He leaves with a 121-169 record in three-plus seasons.