By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- Kevin McHale is leaving Minnesota's front office to coach the wayward team he assembled, returning to the sideline after Randy Wittman failed to turn around the rebuilding franchise.
McHale stepped down as Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations on Monday, a position he has held since 1995, to become the coach after owner Glen Taylor fired Wittman.
The job is not an interim one. McHale said he "plans on being here" for the long term and general manager Jim Stack and assistant GMs Fred Hoiberg and Rob Babcock will take over his executive duties for the remainder of the season.
Now it's up to McHale to breathe some life into a team that wasn't responding to the hard-nosed Wittman.
"It just looks like the guys are very beaten down," McHale said. "They've only played 19 games this season. They have 63 games left. It's no time to be beaten down. There's still time to rally and get going."
The Timberwolves (4-15) have lost five consecutive games, including the last two by a combined 52 points.
The final straw came on Saturday night when the Wolves were blown out at home by the Los Angeles Clippers (4-16) in front of Taylor.
"Certainly we are way behind where I hoped we would be at this time," Taylor said.
This was the fourth NBA coaching firing this season following P.J. Carlesimo (Oklahoma City), Eddie Jordan (Washington) and Sam Mitchell (Toronto).
Wittman was 38-105 since taking over for Dwane Casey in January 2007. McHale picked Wittman to preside over the team's rebuilding following the trade of Kevin Garnett, but the second year of the plan has not produced results.
After keeping things close early in the season, the Timberwolves lost by 29 at New Jersey on Friday night, then were blown out by the Clippers to seal Wittman's fate. Wittman went 22-60 last year, his only full season in charge.
"Sometimes you just need a change," forward Mark Madsen said. "Obviously Glen Taylor felt that very strongly. And so I buy into that now.
"Hopefully with that change we can rejuvenate, we can win some basketball games and we can take everything that coach Wittman taught us and apply it. And we can take something new from Kevin McHale and apply that."
McHale has experience in this kind of situation. He went 19-12 in the final 31 games of the 2004-05 season after Flip Saunders was fired.
"Kevin has assembled the players on this team, and believes in their talent and skill level," Taylor said. "It is my expectation that Kevin will be able to get the most out of our team and our players in his new role as head coach."
While Wittman was been preaching energy and effort, the Timberwolves were routinely outhustled. They were outrebounded 54-38 and outscored 20-7 in second-chance points against the Clippers, two telltale signs of lack of effort.
Wittman started this season with defense as the top priority, harping on it throughout training camp and urging his team to commit to it at all costs. Yet the Wolves have allowed at least 100 points in seven straight games and constantly give up easy layups and wide-open jumpers. Whatever the coach was trying to teach, it either wasn't working or wasn't sinking in.
On countless occasions this season, Wittman has been reduced to stomping his feet on the sidelines and yelling, "What are we doing?" with his hands in the air in exasperation.
The players said the onus was on them to get things turned around.
"The hustle has to be there every night. Last two nights, it hasn't been there," forward Ryan Gomes said after the Clippers loss. "You look at the games, look at the scores of these games and you can just tell by that, that something was wrong."
Five of the team's first eight losses were by six points or less, leaving hope that an adjustment here or there would get things on track.
But things went downhill last week. Losses at Charlotte, Orlando and New Jersey were ugly, but nothing in comparison to the drubbing delivered by the Clippers in front of a home smattering of fans.
"We started off that game like we were dead," McHale said. "I said, 'Wow. This is unacceptable."'
This season is starting to look a lot like last year, when the Timberwolves were 3-16 at this point. After jettisoning malcontents Marko Jaric and Antoine Walker and acquiring Kevin Love and Mike Miller, Taylor expected more.
"You look at our team and we have an improved roster and we are still in the same predicament we were in last year," Gomes said.