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Originally published January 4, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 6, 2006 at 2:01 PM

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Who is Bob Hill? Sonics to find out

Clearly Bob Hill has some residual resentment regarding his departure from San Antonio. On the day he returned as an NBA head coach, the newest Sonics coach, shied away...

Seattle Times staff reporter

CHICAGO — Clearly Bob Hill has some residual resentment regarding his departure from San Antonio.

On the day he returned as an NBA head coach, the newest Sonics coach, shied away from discussing the circumstances that led to his 1996 firing in San Antonio and why it has taken him so long to get another chance to direct a team.

"We won 121 games in two years," he said. "Won the division both years. David Robinson was the MVP. Sean Elliott was an All-Star. Tied an NBA record and won 16 straight games. It goes on and on and on."

What's left unsaid is why then-president Gregg Popovich assumed control of the Spurs at the start of the 1996-97 season following a 3-15 start. There were extenuating circumstances for the record. Seven players missed games due to injuries — including Robinson, who played six games that year after aggravating a back injury.

At the time, Popovich attributed the change to the team's lack of commitment towards defense, but San Antonio ranked 12th and 11th in defense during Hill's two full seasons.

"Honestly, that's something that I still have not gotten a complete and full answer to, and not that I care to get one at this point," Hill said weeks ago. "You can't live your life in reverse. You just can't. And you can't live in the past. You got to let certain things go. And I have.

"But if you're asking me what went wrong, for the life of me, I can't give you an answer that makes sense."

Under Popovich's direction, San Antonio had a 17-47 record and finished 20-62. They ended up with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, which they used to select Tim Duncan.

The rest, as they say, is history.

San Antonio went on to win three NBA titles, while Hill was cast into basketball purgatory.

Unable to get another head-coaching job in the league, in 1999 he took on the daunting task of resurrecting Fordham University, a Division I-A school in New York. He accepted a 10-year, $2.5 million contract and was expected to turn around a program that had had seven consecutive losing seasons.

But Fordham's win totals declined in each of his four seasons. Hill was fired after the Rams finished 2002-03 with the worst record in school history, 2-26 (later, the school received two more wins by forfeit that season).

Hill took two years off from coaching before joining the Sonics last summer.

The Bob Hill file

College: Graduated from Bowling Green, 1971. Bachelor's degree in physical education. Earned a master's in secondary education, 1972.

Etc.: Hill has written a book, "Coaching for Success and Beyond," and has been a motivational speaker on team building.

Personal: Hill and his wife, Pam, have three sons, Cameron, Christopher and Casey.

The coaching resume

• Assistant coach, Bowling Green, 1971-75

• Assistant coach, Pittsburgh, 1975-77

• Assistant coach, Kansas, 1977-85

• Assistant coach, N.Y. Knicks, 1985-86

• Head coach, New York Knicks, 1986-87

• Head coach, Vitrus Knorr, Italy, 1988-89

• Head coach, Indiana Pacers, 1990-93

• Assistant coach, Orlando Magic, 1993-94

• Head coach, San Antonio Spurs, 1994-96

• Head coach, Fordham, 1999-2003

• Assistant coach, Sonics, 2005-06

"Who is Bob Hill?" Ray Allen asked. "That's a good question. We're all going to find in the next couple of days and next couple of weeks."

If first impressions mean anything, Hill is someone who enjoys spending time in the gym. He put the team through a drill-oriented, 2 ½-hour practice Tuesday and said it should expect more of the same for now.

"It was really hard," forward Vladimir Radmanovic said. "I think that's what we missed. That's probably the reason why we didn't play the way we're supposed to play because we all like to practice easy, but sometimes you need somebody to push you a little bit in order to get better."

When Weiss was hired, the Sonics heralded his arrival and laid-back approach, while proclaiming that former coach Nate McMillan was too much of a disciplinarian. It remains to be seen if Hill is as much of a task master as McMillan, but it's clear that he's nothing like Weiss.

"I'm a tolerant tyrant," Hill said. "I've been doing this for so long. I'm firm but fair. I think one of my weakness is I harbor my feelings for a while and then just all at once I let it go. I'm not proud of that.

"I'm not afraid of confrontation at all. I don't like to confront players, but I will if I have to."

General manager Rick Sund said the Sonics are not conducting a coaching search and that Hill is not the interim coach.

"He's the coach with an opportunity for the future," Sund said. "... He can coach the way he wants to coach."

When the Sonics conclude five games on the road, Sund will sit down with Hill and restructure his two-year contract.

Early in the 1986-87 season, Hill took over for Hubie Brown after New York started 4-12 and guided the Knicks to a 20-46 record. Four years later, he replaced Dick Versace at Indiana after a 9-16 start. After the Pacers finished 41-41, and advanced to the playoffs, Hill was retained.

"What you basically try to do is have training camp during the season," Hill said. "Games take on a different personality. ... Every coach has a different philosophy, and you have to get your philosophy in on the fly.

"The practices are going to be harder. The walkthroughs are going to be taped and live, but everything can be done. The good thing for us is we're still in the race for the division, but we have to start making hay right now."

NBA head coaching record:
Year Team W-L Pct. Playoffs Pct.
1986-87 New York 20-46 .303 0-0 .000
1990-91 Indiana 32-25 .561 2-3 .400
1991-92 Indiana 40-42 .488 0-3 .000
1992-93 Indiana 41-41 .500 1-3 .250
1994-95 San Antonio 62-20 .756 9-6 .600
1995-96 San Antonio 59-23 .720 5-5 .500
1996-97 San Antonio 3-15 .167 0-0 .000
Career 7 seasons 257-212 .548 17-20 .459

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