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76ers hand coaching reins to Ayers

Philly assistant wasn’t the first choice but is last

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PHILADELPHIA — Randy Ayers was hardly Philadelphia's first choice to replace Larry Brown. Or second, third or even fourth.

Ayers is the 76ers' final pick, though.

The assistant was promoted to head coach Friday, taking over a team that went to the NBA Finals just two years ago.

The former Ohio State coach spent the last six seasons as Brown's assistant. Brown resigned last month and is now the Detroit Pistons' coach.

"At the end of the day, it became clear that Randy is the guy," team president Billy King said. "I believe in this team. We have the same vision. With some tweaking, I believe we can go far."

Ayers' hiring was first reported Thursday by The Associated Press.

He joins a team that went 48-34 last season and won a first-round playoff series against New Orleans before losing to Detroit in six games.

"I feel I have a good relationship with all of the players," Ayers said. "We've had some highs and lows."

He said he has developed a bond with Allen Iverson, Eric Snow and Aaron McKie.

"I wanted to coach the team because of these guys and the other guys," Ayers said.

Brown, a Hall of Famer, took Philadelphia to the finals in his fourth season. But injuries, questionable personnel moves and clashes with Iverson have hindered the team since.

During a news conference, Ayers was asked to explain the biggest difference between Brown and him. Before he could respond, 76ers chairman Ed Snider interjected: "The biggest difference is he won't quit each year" — a clear swipe at Brown, who threatened to quit after each season and at least once during the season.

"I have great respect for Coach Brown," Ayers said. "The biggest thing he taught me was game management. He managed the game better than any coach I've been around. But we will be more up-tempo. We want to push the ball with the guards and be more creative."

Ayers also said he wants the team to take more 3-pointers. Brown wasn't a fan of the shot.

Ayers was far down on King's list of candidates. King initially tried to get permission to speak to Portland coach Maurice Cheeks, a former 76ers' star. Also, former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said they weren't interested in the job after speaking to King. Van Gundy took over in Houston, replacing Rudy Tomjanovich.

King also interviewed former New Jersey Nets assistant Eddie Jordan, who was hired by Washington on Thursday, former Atlanta coach Mike Fratello, Hawks interim coach Terry Stotts, 76ers assistant Mike Woodson and Miami Heat assistant Bob McAdoo.

King said he was most impressed by Ayers' preparation and communication skills.

"The grass isn't always greener on the other side," King said.

Ayers went 124-108 as coach of the Buckeyes for eight years. He led Ohio State to four postseason appearances and was the AP Coach of the Year in 1991 after the Buckeyes went 27-4 and won the first of consecutive Big Ten championships.

His stay at Ohio State ended with four consecutive losing seasons and off-court troubles. As a result of 17 rules violations, the Buckeyes were put on probation by the NCAA.

Only 15 of the 33 players Ayers brought into the basketball program exhausted their eligibility. And many got into trouble with the law.

After Ayers was fired, five of his recruits were dismissed or left the program with the approval of his successor, Jim O'Brien.

"We had some good years and some not-so-good years," Ayers said. "I take full responsibility for the not-so-good years. I didn't have patience with the younger players."

Before going to Ohio State as an assistant under Gary Williams and Eldon Miller, Ayers coached two years at Army. He played four seasons at Miami of Ohio.

Ayers was selected in the third round of the 1978 NBA draft by Chicago. He was cut before the season and played one year of pro ball in Reno, Nev., before getting into coaching.

"He doesn't panic," said Williams, who led Maryland to a national title in 2002. "That's the best thing you can do as a coach."

Snow, McKie and Keith Van Horn were among the six players that attended Ayers' news conference. Iverson, perhaps thinking he was going to practice, arrived late.

"He's somebody who knows the players, knows what we're about, knows our style plus he's been under the best coach in the world for years so he had to learn something," Iverson said.