Johnny Oates became the leading candidate to manage the Texas Rangers when Phil Regan dropped out of the running to become the Orioles' manager yesterday.
Regan was given a two-year contract by the Orioles plus a club option for the third season to replace Oates, who was fired at the end of the season.
Regan had been scheduled for an interview with the Rangers yesterday but canceled his flight when he received the Orioles' offer.
Oates remains the only candidate to have interviewed with the Rangers since Kevin Kennedy was fired Wednesday, and general manager Doug Melvin said Oates was a strong candidate, saying: "We had a good interview."
However, Melvin, the former assistant general manager of the Orioles before accepting the Rangers' job last week, said the search will continue and that other candidates could be interviewed.
"I'm going to continue to talk to a few people and look at a couple of people," Melvin said. "It would have been nice to talk to Phil, but he had to take the best opportunity available, rather than wait and see."
Oates met Friday with Melvin and scouting director Sandy Johnson but hasn't heard back from the Rangers.
"No one has told me anything," Oates said yesterday from his home in Virginia. "There are a lot of qualified people out there. All I know is that I've been interviewed, now I'm just sitting here and waiting.
Oates and Melvin have been together for the past six year. Melvin hired Oates to manage the Orioles' Triple-A farm team in 1988, and Oates joined the major-league staff in 1989.
Oates became the Orioles' manager on May 23, 1991, replacing Frank Robinson. The Orioles were 291-270 under Oates, including 237-199 the past three seasons and 63-49 last season, finishing second behind the New York Yankees in the American League East.
If Oates got the job, he would be the first Rangers manager with previous major-league experience since Darrell Johnson served as interim manager for Don Zimmer at the end of the 1982 season.
The Rangers' past four managers -- Kennedy, Toby Harrah, Bobby Valentine and Doug Rader -- never had managed in the big leagues before taking over in Texas.
"I'm always optimistic," Oates said. "But I'm just excited to be considered by Texas to be their manager. It would be a good situation to walk into."
Melvin declined to discuss who else might be candidates, but, major-league officials said, three possible candidates who could emerge are Indians coach Buddy Bell, Cubs coach Tony Muser and former Yankees manager Bucky Dent.
Bell, who played for the Rangers from 1979-85 and briefly in 1989, has strong support from within the organization. Before joining the Indians last year, Bell served three seasons for the White Sox as their director of minor-league instruction.
Muser, a former Orioles player, is highly regarded as an up-and-coming manager and was a finalist for the Kansas City Royals' job that was given to Bob Boone. He also is rumored to be the leading candidate for the Cubs' job, should Tom Trebelhorn be let go by new general manager Ed Lynch.
Dent and Melvin have known each other since they were together in the Yankees' organization from 1977 until Dent was traded to the Rangers in 1982.
Dent, now a coach with the Cardinals, managed the Yankees for parts of 1989 and 1990 with a record of 36-53.