MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – In a season and a half with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Dwane Casey became known for his even-keeled demeanor, never getting too high or too low.

His team never could capture that same consistency on the court, which ultimately led to the coach’s ouster.

Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale fired Casey on Tuesday, one day after Minnesota lost its fourth consecutive game.

“We were at a point as a team where we were just treading water,” McHale said. “The ups and downs, we just couldn’t find any consistency.”

The month of January was a microcosm of Casey’s tenure.

The Timberwolves looked to be turning the corner at the start of the new year, when they opened 2007 with seven wins in their first eight games.

But they lost their next four games, including one to Phoenix without leading scorers Kevin Garnett and Ricky Davis, who were suspended. Garnett was suspended by the league for a confrontation with Detroit’s Antonio McDyess, while Davis was suspended by the team for acting out during Friday night’s game with the Pistons.

“It was just basically two steps up the hill and two steps down,” McHale said. “We were never able to establish a style of play that we could bank on over and over again.”

Casey did not immediately return messages left by The Associated Press. Team owner Glen Taylor also did not return messages.

Assistant coach Randy Wittman will take over as interim coach in a situation similar to 2005, when longtime coach Flip Saunders was fired in midseason and replaced on the bench by McHale.

McHale had no designs on taking over permanently, so he turned to Casey, who spent the previous 14 years as an assistant. Casey was just 33-49 in his first season, one made more difficult by an eight-player trade with Boston at midseason that upset the chemistry of a group that had been together for some time. The Wolves brought Wittman and longtime assistant Bob Ociepka onto Casey’s staff for this season, hoping an influx of experience would help the first-time head coach with his game management.

“We’ve got to find our way off the roller-coaster,” Wittman said Tuesday night after the team’s practice in Portland, Ore. While the team has shown some improvement this season, the inconsistencies left the Wolves 20-20 following Monday night’s 106-91 loss at Utah.

That wasn’t good enough for Taylor, who wants his team to return to the form that made it a Western Conference finalist in 2004. He also knows that the Timberwolves have to start winning to placate Garnett, the former MVP who has made it clear that he is growing tired of the mediocrity.

“We just had these unbelievable swings inside of a week, inside of a game,” McHale said. “We were just very erratic.”

Garnett has most frequently directed his ire toward McHale, who has struggled to surround the superstar with enough talent to compete in the powerful West. Garnett had seldom criticized Casey.

McHale traded veteran Sam Cassell and a No. 1 draft pick to the Clippers for Marko Jaric, and sacrificed valuable cap room by spending millions on contracts for Jaric, Troy Hudson and Eddie Griffin, all of whom have not panned out in Minnesota.

“The success of the team starts with me and ends with me,” McHale said.

Casey and the Timberwolves improved to 20-16 last week after a 94-90 victory at Detroit. But they followed that up with an ugly home loss to Atlanta and a double-overtime loss to the Pistons before starting a five-game road trip with back-to-back blowouts against Phoenix and Utah.

“We all feel responsible,” forward Mark Madsen said. “We wish we had got the job done, and we would not be in the position we are in now.”

Now it’s Wittman’s turn. It will be his second try as a head coach, having gone 62-102 in two seasons with Cleveland from 1999-2001.

Garnett said everybody in basketball knows the coach “is the captain of the boat. Now Randy has the chance to voice his opinion, and he did that today.”

Wittman had three stints as an assistant with Minnesota for a total of 10 seasons.

“He knows Kevin, our top player, very, very well,” McHale said. “Witt’s going to be the coach for the rest of the year. I fully anticipate Randy being here a long time.”

Saunders, who spent almost 10 seasons at the helm, is the only coach in the franchise’s 18 years to last more than two seasons.

“I will do all in my power to put them in a position to win,” Wittman said. “But they’ve got to win.”

Associated Press Writer Joseph B. Frazier in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.

AP-ES-01-23-07 2124EST