NORFOLK — Citing the need for greater leadership for its players, Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig fired men’s basketball coach Blaine Taylor on Tuesday, the latest blow in an epically dismal season for one of the nation’s notable mid-major programs.
Taylor, the most successful men’s coach in ODU history, was fired just hours after an 85-74 loss to George Mason that dropped the team’s record to 2-20. The Monarchs are spiraling toward the program’s worst season in the Division I era after a run that included seven 20-win seasons and four NCAA tournament appearances in the past eight years.
“This decision is not based solely on wins and losses, but a number of factors by which a head coach is evaluated,” a stone-faced Selig said Tuesday afternoon, reading from a prepared statement in the press room of the Constant Center.
“At this point, in regard to our head men’s basketball coach, our student-athletes need more mentorship, guidance and leadership,” Selig continued. “Our fans and alumni need encouragement. Our administration needs confidence in our leadership.”
Selig named longtime assistant Jim Corrigan as interim head coach for the remainder of the season, which ends March 2 at Northeastern. In their final season as members of the Colonial Athletic Association before leaving for Conference USA, the Monarchs are not permitted to compete in next month’s CAA tournament.
Selig was accompanied by ODU president John Broderick, a fixture at Monarchs’ basketball games and athletic events. Broderick said that he supported Selig’s decision.
The two men sat at a table in the front of the press room for several minutes and made statements before departing without taking questions.
Senior associate athletic director Debbie White said that neither Selig nor school officials could elaborate on Taylor’s dismissal because it was “a personnel matter.” She spent approximately four minutes fielding questions, most of which she said that she could not answer.
Selig had told reporters recently that he fully expected ODU would return to previous success enjoyed under Taylor. Asked what had changed in the past couple of weeks, White declined comment.
White said she wasn’t permitted to discuss if Taylor would be paid for the final two years of his current contract. She did say that Taylor was told he was fired late Tuesday morning. The coaching staff and players were informed early in the afternoon.
None of the remaining staff or players was available for comment. No practice was scheduled Tuesday, so the players were not at the Constant Center. The Monarchs next play Thursday at Drexel. Their next home game is Saturday versus league leader Northeastern.
Hampton High guard Jordan Baker is one of three players who have committed to the Monarchs for next season, and he said that Taylor’s dismissal hit him hard.
“It’s just sinking in,” Baker told DP colleague Dave Johnson. “I’m really shocked. I thought at least he’d get another year for my group to get there, but the AD thought otherwise. It kind of hurts, but Coach (John) Richardson called and told me to only worry about Hampton High School basketball right now. He said he and the assistants will be there for me on the road to another championship.”
Baker said that he planned to honor his commitment to ODU out of loyalty to Corrigan and Richardson, who were his primary recruiters. But he said that Taylor played a major role in his decision.
“We sat down face-to-face and he offered me the scholarship,” Baker said. “Then we sat down again face-to-face and I accepted. The whole atmosphere has a family feel and there’s going to be a hole there.”
Taylor, 55, is one of the glib and gregarious figures in the history of ODU athletics. The native Montanan combined folksy, homespun humor with a fierce, demanding and at-times profane style that succeeded at the three places he’s coached: Montana, Stanford and ODU.
He leaves ODU as the school’s winningest basketball coach, with a 239-144 record in nearly 12 seasons. He revived a program that had dipped under previous coach Jeff Capel. He bridged the gap between the program’s traditional homes of Scope and the ODU Field House, and the on-campus Constant Center, which opened in 2002.
The Monarchs were sub-.500 his first two seasons before gaining traction. The breakthrough came in 2004-05, when the team went 28-6, won its first CAA title since 1997 and carried powerful Michigan State to the end before losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
That began a string of seven 20-win seasons in eight years, with three CAA titles, four NCAA appearances and an NIT final four.
Selig praised Taylor and his family for their contributions to the ODU campus and community. Indeed, Selig said recently that Taylor was one of the school’s most effective fundraisers. He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through the years to endow scholarships and for the program. He helped elevate the school’s profile throughout the community.
“Blaine’s student-athletes have always shown great character and tremendous heart,” Selig said. “They have enjoyed considerable athletic and academic success. They have gone on to become productive citizens in their communities following graduation from the university.
“In those regards, Blaine has led a model program — all of which has made for a difficult decision today. But as previously stated, my primary focus is our student-athletes and the future of our men’s basketball program.”
Asked about the peculiarity of terminating a head coach with just eight games remaining in the season, White responded, “I can’t comment any further than to tell you that I think you can look at the expressions on people’s faces to understand how difficult a decision this was.”
Selig insisted in his statement that, “We are not giving up on our student-athletes or the program. Today’s announcement is about addressing the present and the future needs of our men’s basketball program. We want to make the most of our remaining games — there are eight games left — and we want to put our student-athletes in position for success.”