Denver head coach takes paid leave

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2001

DENVER -- Denver Nuggets coach Dan Issel took a paid leave of absence Saturday, the day he was to return from a four-game suspension for shouting an insensitive ethnic remark at a fan.

No timetable was set for Issel's return, though general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said he believed Issel would need only a day or two to make a decision on whether to come back to the team.

Vandeweghe said Issel requested ''some additional time to consider his future in terms of coaching the Nuggets. He wants to make sure his return to the sidelines is in his best interest and the best interest of the organization.''

Assistant Mike Evans, who replaced Issel during the suspension, coached Denver against visiting Golden State on Saturday night. The Nuggets lost 105-101.

Issel was suspended Dec. 12 for remarks he made as he walked off the court after a loss to Charlotte the night before. The coach responded to a taunt from a fan by yelling back, ''Go drink another beer, you Mexican ... ,'' adding an expletive.

The team suspended Issel for four games without pay, costing him more than $112,000. He could have returned Saturday night.

He apologized publicly and then met with Hispanic leaders.

''He did issue an apology to the Mexicano community, and we really appreciated that. And you know, I think most of us forgave him,'' Veronica Barela, a member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said Saturday.

Bobby Bowman, who says he was the fan who had the Dec. 11 exchange with Issel, said Saturday he doesn't feel sorry for the coach.

''I said what I said, and he shouldn't have said what he said. He brought this on himself,'' Bowman said.

Issel has acknowledged that he has trouble controlling his temper and plans to do something about it, but has not been more specific.

Evans said he was ''absolutely surprised'' by Issel's decision to take a leave of absence and said he thought the Nuggets players ''were prepared to hear a different voice than they heard the last four games.''

Asked if he expected Issel to return, Evans said, ''I hope so. I hope he does come back. It doesn't matter how I feel. I want what is best for him.

''I refuse to think he is leaving. Maybe I am protecting myself. I'm just not entertaining the notion that he won't be coaching this team.''

Nuggets forward Raef LaFrentz said the players weren't informed of Issel's plans until the pregame meal. ''It was a little letdown,'' LaFrentz said. ''We were excited to see Dan come back.

''I assume we will go home and enjoy Christmas and then come back on Christmas night (for practice) and we will know more then.''

Forward George McCloud didn't want to speculate on whether Issel would return.

''I thought he would be here for this game,'' McCloud said. ''The last time I talked to him was the last practice before we went to San Antonio (on Thursday). I had no idea at all. He was upbeat, he seemed to be motivated to put it behind him.

''I don't know if he had a change of mind or he needs a couple of extra days to just weigh everything. I'm sure he will let us know before we get back from Christmas.''

Issel has been a player, general manager and president of the Nuggets in addition to coach. He's 178-205 as the team's coach, the third-most wins with the Nuggets.

Issel was not available for comment before Saturday's game. Vandeweghe made the surprise announcement about 40 minutes before tipoff.

Vandeweghe said he and Issel spoke Friday, and the coach requested the leave late Saturday afternoon.

Vandeweghe said Issel would be paid during the leave.

Issel, allowed to coach at practices during his suspension, appeared eager to return to the bench just a few days ago.

''I think he was,'' Vandeweghe said. ''I think he just made a decision that he needed an extra day or so to talk with his family and the people he needs to talk to.''

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