NORFOLK — Old Dominion's firing of basketball coach Blaine Taylor on Tuesday was equal parts sad, awkward and unusual.
Unusual because athletic director Wood Selig and university president John Broderick appeared at a news conference but declined to answer questions. Selig read a vague, lawyered, six-paragraph statement; Broderick said he supported the decision, and out the door they walked after four minutes and with eight games remaining in the season.
Awkward because of the elephant in the room: Taylor's history with alcohol.
ODU hired Taylor in 2001 fully aware of his DUI arrest six years earlier, when he was the University of Montana's head coach. He voluntarily entered a 28-day rehabilitation program.
Last month, Taylor's odd behavior during his weekly radio show, a video of which landed on Deadspin, raised red flags.
And Monday night, Taylor's listless sideline demeanor during ODU's home loss to George Mason struck some observers as peculiar.
Debbie White, ODU's senior associate athletic director, moderated Tuesday's media session, and after Selig and Broderick exited stage left, a reporter asked her if alcohol played a role in Taylor's dismissal. Naturally, she declined comment.
"This decision is not based solely on wins and losses," Selig said in his prepared statement, "but on a number of factors by which a head coach is evaluated. At this point, in regard to our head men's basketball coach, our student athletes need mentorship, leadership and guidance. Our fans and alumni need encouragement. Our administration needs confidence in our leadership. …
"As this is an institutional personnel issue, I really cannot comment further or specifically, and I trust you will respect that position."
And that's the sad part here. ODU officials felt compelled to terminate, during the season, an accomplished coach whom they acknowledge ran, in many regards, "a model program."
Yes, the 2-20 Monarchs, losers of 10 consecutive games, are bad this year, unexpectedly and historically bad. But no one should doubt Taylor's innate coaching ability.
From 2004-12, he guided ODU to nine consecutive winning seasons that included four NCAA tournament appearances. His career mark here is 239-144.
Just Tuesday morning I was talking to Clemson coach Brad Brownell for a story, and he asked about Taylor and ODU's struggles.
"He's a heck of a good coach," said Brownell, assuring me that Taylor would fix what ailed his program.
Habitually glib, Taylor raised money, hobnobbed with fans and even tolerated media. He was hard on players, especially during practices, but in large numbers they represented the university well and earned their degrees.
Still, in the midst of a season like this, the question had to be asked.
"Is your basketball coach safe?" I said to Selig recently.
"Totally safe," he said.
Less than three weeks later, Selig and Broderick concluded that the 55-year-old Taylor was unfit to lead the program. Taylor was contracted through the 2015 season and was making approximately $800,000 annually, and rest assured ODU's reticence Tuesday involved not only privacy issues but also the $1.5 million-plus Taylor may, or may not, be due.
Selig wisely appointed associate head coach Jim Corrigan as Taylor's interim replacement. Corrigan is a 19-year veteran of ODU's staff, predating Taylor, knows the players and program better than anyone and will be a calming presence as the Monarchs navigate their final eight games and an uncertain future.
Selig did not address his search process Tuesday, but his two-plus years at ODU have been marked by bold strokes.
He upgraded the football program to the Bowl Subdivision, a decision that required moving the entire athletic operation from the Colonial Athletic Association to Conference USA. He parted ways with iconic women's basketball coach Wendy Larry.
In all, Selig has hired new coaches for ODU baseball, women's lacrosse, field hockey, women's basketball, women's golf, women's crew, and men's and women's tennis. That's eight of the Monarchs' 18 sports.
This will be his most important hire to date, and despite the season's failings, ODU is a quality job, with the resources, facilities and recruiting base to attract countless candidates.
It's a job that Taylor made much more attractive, through not only coaching but also sheer force of personality.
When he arrived at ODU, Taylor willingly discussed his past missteps.
"When you're younger, you're cruising along," he told the Daily Press' Dave Fairbank. "You have a lot of energy, you're on the go. As you're pile-driving along, and when something like that happens to you, it causes you to step back and say: 'What am I doing here? How is this affecting me? How is it affecting my wife, my family, my job?'"
Taylor said then that sobriety had made him "a happier person.. I think I'm more focused on my family and my job. … I just decided it was best for me to have one of them."
He nodded toward a Diet Coke.
May Taylor find similar happiness and focus again.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun