‘Spoon down: UB Bulls can head coach Witherspoon
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • March 15, 2013 @ 4:11pm
Even though the UB Bulls unceremoniously stumbled in the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals last night, no one really saw this personnel move coming.
University at Buffalo athletic director Danny White released a statement today to announce the firing of 14-year veteran head coach Reggie Witherspoon. Here’s White’s statement from BuffaloBulls.com:
“After much consideration, we have determined that a change in leadership for our men’s basketball program is necessary,” White said. “Coach Witherspoon has led this program with character and integrity for the past 14 years and we are grateful for his service to our institution. This was a very difficult decision because I understand the impact Coach Witherspoon has made to our University and community. To be sure, our program is in a much stronger position than when Reggie and his staff took over.”
Witherspoon compiled a record of 198-228 over 14 seasons—an average of 14 wins and 16 losses per season. His Bulls reached the MAC title game twice, but lost to Ohio in 2005 and Akron in 2008.
Like Tom Parrotta last season at Canisius, Witherspoon’s downfall was not his integrity or personal qualities—on the surface, it appears that he was let go simply because the Bulls have not been crowned conference tournament champions since entering the MAC in 1999.
In addition to failing to cut down the nets in Cleveland, Witherspoon’s teams traditionally struggled in close games and when playing on the road. He got the most out of his teams defensively, but his offensive system because predictable and stale as time passed.
The 11th coach in UB basketball history—and third since Buffalo entered NCAA Division I—Witherspoon mustered a 5-31 record in his first two years in the Mid-American Conference.
As he built the program, fostering an environment of integrity, hard work and discipline, the Bulls’ record improved—in five seasons since 2008-09, the Bulls were 93-69 overall, 47-33 in conference play, including a narrow loss in the MAC semifinals against Ohio in 2012.
Simply put, Witherspoon is a Western New York basketball legend—he broke racial barriers by becoming the first African-American head coach at a Western New York suburban high school when he guided the Sweet Home Panthers for 13 seasons, then continued his coaching career—and earned the attention of UB—through an exceptional 44-23 stint as head coach at Erie Community College. He played under John Beilein at ECC—finding a coaching role model early in his playing career.
Charismatic, thoughtful and friendly were three traits often associated with Witherspoon, who was revered around the University at Buffalo despite his lack of a MAC title. His facial expressions, court-side antics and legendary suit coat endeared him to students and fans—and both Witherspoon and Jeff Quinn are two of the more “approachable” coaches in Western New York sports.
It will be interesting to monitor the fallout of Witherspoon’s firing.
Will Javon McCrea stay for his senior season, or will he seek out greener pastures at a high-major for increased exposure, even if that means sitting out a transfer season?
After all, it was Witherspoon and the Bulls’ higher administration that sold Shannon Nash, McCrea’s mother, on the family atmosphere of the campus and the commitment to academics. Without Witherspoon at the helm, where does Javon’s loyalty stand?
I anticipate he’ll want to finish out his career with his beloved soon-to-be seniors—Cameron Downing, Jarod Oldham, Auraum Nuiriankh and Corey Raley-Ross—the “Fab Five.” If everyone returns, the Bulls have a nucleus in place to realistically compete for the MAC title, but a greater obstacle stands in the way: adjusting to a new coach, (probably) a new staff, perhaps a different playing style and maybe a new rotation.
If you look at the transition that Central Michigan faced after head coach Ernie Zeigler was fired last year, it’s pretty clear that the fallout from a dismissal can be extreme.
In today’s press release, UB AD Danny White noted that a national search would begin immediately, but it’s possible the solution could already be on the Bulls’ staff.
Former Bulls point guard Turner Battle, who’s served under Witherspoon since 2007, is well-respected locally and has put in his time as an assistant. He’s already familiar with the players and the system, and he was a tremendous player and leader in his own right.
Time will tell what direction White chooses, but in the meantime, Witherspoon was a role model on Buffalo’s campus, and it’s saddening to see his tenure as head coach come to an end today.