Oh, Danny boy
White’s decision to fire Witherspoon is best for the program
Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 02:03
In his short tenure at UB, Athletic Director Danny White has made two highly debatable, unpopular decisions – extending the contract of football head coach Jeff Quinn and terminating the contract of men’s basketball head coach Reggie Witherspoon. The latter drew even more controversy.
I’ll admit to being just as shocked as the rest of Buffalo when hearing that the team’s 14-year head coach had been let go. But upon further evaluation, it isn’t so shocking.
Witherspoon has gone 173-140 since 2003 and Quinn has gone just 9-27 in his three short years. So why did White contradict himself with the extending of one and the firing of the other?
For one, White is telling us the two programs don’t coincide. Aside from the football team’s 2008-09 Mid-American Conference Championship, the basketball team has been the better, more popular program at this school. But has the basketball team really been all that good?
In his most recent success, Witherspoon has gone 79-49 in the previous four seasons before this past one – none of those seasons resulting in a MAC Tournament Championship. In his eight seasons prior to 2008, the Bulls’ highest finish was second place in 2004-05.
I’ll give you this team has had more success than most other programs around campus and has definitely been the sport with the most fans. Witherspoon has been able to bring the Bulls to a level of relevance, but that has been the limit. In the past few seasons, we have watched from the sidelines as schools like Akron and Ohio have gained national recognition.
Buffalo has become an above-average team in the MAC but has plateaued and has never been able to get over the edge and deliver a conference tournament title, or more importantly, our first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
White has acknowledged our run on this level and is on a mission to push us over the edge. White comes from a historical background of basketball: He was a player at Notre Dame, his brother Michael is the head coach at Louisiana Tech and his father is the athletic director at Duke. Having an average team in a mid-major conference is unacceptable in his eyes, and a 14-year head coach who has failed to deliver one conference tournament championship is even more unacceptable.
How long were we going to give Witherspoon before he achieves the ultimate goal of winning the MAC title and earning a berth to the NCAA Tournament?
There are still two common arguments against the firing, the first being Witherspoon’s integrity, the impact he has had on the community and the successes that have come to his players in their post-basketball lives. Based on the few moments I have spent around Witherspoon, I couldn’t agree more. I’m not bringing any of that into question. Are those things important? Of course, but should they come at the expense of winning championships?
Incoming students don’t want to hear of our student-athletes’ academic success but rather their athletic success. Witherspoon’s impact on his players is admirable, but the line has to be drawn upon what is most important, and it should be winning.
The second argument: Why not give Witherspoon one more season, his last season with the most decorated, highest-rated recruit the Bulls have ever had – junior forward Javon McCrea?
Giving Witherspoon another year would be a lose-lose for both parties. In his head, White has already made the decision and next year’s basketball team has potential to reach 20 wins no matter who the coach is. So how would he justify firing Witherspoon after a 20-win season?
As The Buffalo News reported, White had made the decision months earlier, so Witherspoon never really had a chance to sustain his job after this season. Even if he did have a chance, unfortunate events unfolded (the season-ending injury to junior point guard Jarod Oldham, for one) and he produced a subpar season.
As for the fear of transfers, should we really expect McCrea to transfer, be forced to sit out a full season and then play limited minutes in his senior year at a new program? He’s currently only one season away from potentially becoming the Bulls’ greatest player of all time and then earning a six-figure salary playing professional basketball overseas or possibly in the NBA. I assume he won’t make that decision.
Witherspoon’s termination is definitely heartfelt around Buffalo and the campus, but the student body should be energized with what White is attempting to do. It’s time to exit the idea of accepting a consistently average (77-73 MAC record since 2003) team and break away into a level the program has yet to reach.