Reggie Witherspoon fired as men's basketball coach
AD White ousts beloved long-time coach
Reggie Witherspoon high-fives former UB point guard Byron Mulkey in 2011. “It’s still kind of surreal because when you think of UB, most think of ’Spoon, Mulkey said. His presence and character will be missed beyond measure.”. Spectrum File Photo
Men's basketball head coach Reggie Witherspoon has been relieved of his duties after 14 years at the helm of the program. Spectrum File Photo
One of the most popular figures on UB's campus has lost his job. First-year Athletic Director Danny White announced Friday afternoon via email that men's basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon had been fired.
"After much consideration, we have determined that a change in leadership for our men's basketball program is necessary," White said in the press release, adding that he will not be making any more comments on the matter. "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."
The firing came just a day after the Bulls fell to Kent State 70-68 in the quarterfinals of Mid-American Conference Tournament Thursday night, ending the Bulls' 2012-13 campaign with a 14-20 overall record and a 7-9 conference record - their first losing season since 2007-08.
When the news broke that the identity of Bulls basketball and his staff would not be returning the following season, it sent a shockwave through the local community.
Sophomore forward Will Regan's father, Lawrence, grew up around the Witherspoon family.
"[I was] shocked," Regan said. "The night after the Kent State loss, I was sitting in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland, talking to [assistant coach Jim] Kwitchoff and we were talking about next year. Kwitchoff was talking about all the things he had to do and what he was planning to do the following week, all the meetings he had. Talking about different things, including trying to work on a redshirt for [injured junior guard Jarod Oldham]."
Lawrence lived on Longmeadow Drive while the Witherspoon family lived close by on Springville Avenue in Eggertsville. Lawrence also had played basketball with Witherspoon's brother, Jeff, and he describes the Witherspoon family as "wonderful people."
Witherspoon built rapport with the community and carried it through his time coaching at his alma mater, Sweet Home High School, all the way to his debut as UB's head coach on Dec. 7, 1999. In that game, Witherspoon and the Bulls held a 40-35 lead over the No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels after the first half.
The Bulls dropped the contest 91-67, but the promising first half was a preview for Witherspoon's career. From 1999-2013, Witherspoon posted a 198-228 record - good for a tie with Arthur Powell (198-190) for second-most career victories at UB. Witherspoon was also the longest-tenured coach among all Big Four Western New York teams.
He was especially known for stressing the importance of education. The American Athletic Union Executive District Sports Chairman of the Adirondack Region and former coach of the AAU City Rocks, Eric Medved, who coached former UB player Andy Robinson, recalled a time when Witherspoon's academic integrity shined through.
"From the very first day we had the opportunity to meet Reggie Witherspoon and Jim Kwitchoff, the entire focus was on Andy Robinson's education - both with the game of basketball and off the court," Medved said. "They constantly stressed the importance of earning that degree and the opportunity to improve themselves as human beings. I really felt Andy was not only walking into a situation where he could get an opportunity to play basketball, but that he would have an opportunity to learn how to become a man."
Former UB point guard Byron Mulkey, who played for the Bulls from 2006-11, was also a result of Witherspoon's philosophy.
"People typically become products of their experiences and [the] people they encounter," Mulkey said in an email. "Outside of family, there's a handful of people that I can say have played a huge role in the individual I've become. Coach 'Spoon along with [the rest of the coaching staff] have definitely done that. And he has done that for decades with the young men he's led."
In the 2011-12 season, the Bulls earned a triple bye to the MAC Tournament semifinals. They lost to Ohio, which eventually made the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen, ending Buffalo's quest for a MAC Championship.
"[I'm] at a loss for words," said former UB guard John Boyer, who played at UB from 2006-10. "Coach 'Spoon is one of the most influential people in my life and was a like a father to the UB family. He is so much more than a basketball coach to the entire Buffalo community and had such a positive influence on so many people."
With the firing, Witherspoon leaves behind a team that has 11 returning players, including two-time first-team All-MAC junior forward Javon McCrea, who turned down offers from major-conference schools to play for Witherspoon.
According to White's statement on Friday, the athletic department is conducting a "national search for a new head coach." For now, the Bulls wait to see who will take over the future of their program.
No matter whom White brings in as head coach, it seems the feelings for Witherspoon around Alumni Arena will never change.
"I'll definitely miss our Reggie chants, that's for sure," said UB medical student and True Blue alum Jeffrey Herendeen. "In the end though, Reggie will always be 'The Godfather of True Blue.'"
Stay with The Spectrum for updates as the coaching search begins.
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