Ted Woodward’s 10th season as men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine was his worst. And his last.
The university announced Monday that it will spend $113,800 to buy out the rest of Woodward’s contract, and begin seeking a new coach for a Division 1 team that has never appeared in the NCAA tournament.
The Black Bears finished 6-23 this season, then three players opted to transfer to other schools. Those two factors combined to prompt new Athletic Director Karlton Creech to cut ties with Woodward.
He had two years left on his contract, but the buyout will cost the university only 13 months of salary under the terms of the original deal. That money will come from privately raised funds in President Paul Ferguson’s discretionary account, the university said, a fact that may ward off criticism at a time when the University of Maine System is grappling with a $36 million budget shortfall.
Woodward’s career record at UMaine was 117-178, and he had only one winning season. This season ended March 8 with an 80-54 loss to Stony Brook in the opening round of the America East Conference tournament.
In recent weeks, Dimitry Akanda-Coronel, Xavier Pollard and Shaun Lawton have announced their intention to transfer. They were three of the team’s top four scorers this season.
“It’s the culmination of kind of intensely looking at the program and deciding what is best for the future of Maine basketball,” said Creech, who has been athletic director for two months. “The wins and losses and the transfers in the last couple of years were factors.”
Creech will begin a national search for Woodward’s replacement, which will be his first hire at UMaine. He said he hopes to find someone in the next several weeks and will consider coaches with experience at any level of the NCAA, not just Division I.
Creech said Woodward’s assistant coaches, Douglas Leichner, Jon Sheets and Deshon Gaither, remain, and the new coach can decide whether to retain them.
Winning has always been a challenge for the team, which drew an average of 1,223 fans to its home games this year.
Jay Bilas, college basketball analyst for ESPN, said the national media barely notice schools that play in small conferences and have little tradition, like UMaine.
“Maine is not a talent-rich state, so you’ve got to attract players from other states to come in,” he said. “It’s hard to get players and it’s hard to keep them. I don’t think anybody would compare a Maine and Maryland or Maine and Villanova. They may be in the same division, but they’re not at the same level.”
Consistent losing tends to compound itself, making it harder to attract the best coaches, Bilas said.
“Whether it be because of resources or a lack of tradition, getting something going is extremely difficult. And then it’s really hard to sustain,” he said. “Then, instead of leaving for a better job, when coaches leave at their employer’s request, it makes it even tougher to sell to a new coach.”
EX-COACH PROUD OF THE PROGRAM
Creech originally said he planned to meet with Woodward soon after the season ended to discuss his performance and the direction of the team. Later, he indicated that he would wait until May before making any big moves, to let the 90-day plan he had presented to Ferguson when he was hired run its course.
But last week, Creech met with Ferguson to discuss terms of a buyout of Woodward’s contract. The president agreed, and Creech informed Woodward on Monday morning.
“I don’t think there was one catalyst or one situation that led me to this. It became apparent to me that even though my plan was not to make any decisions before that 90 days were up, the time was right for a change now,” Creech said.
“Ted’s a good guy,” he said. “I’m so impressed with him and how he’s handled this situation. As he’s always done here, his first concern was about the university and what is best for Maine.”
Woodward, 50, started at UMaine in 1996 as an assistant for coach John Giannini. He took the head coaching job in 2004, after Giannini went to LaSalle University.
He was not available for comment Monday, nor were any of his players. Woodward released a statement through the university that said, in part:
“I am extremely proud of the Black Bear basketball program. I have put all of my energy, heart and soul into it during my entire career at Maine. I have enjoyed every minute of recruiting and coaching the young men who have gone through these halls as Black Bears, and am proud of the many things we accomplished both on and off the court, along with the many things that these men have become upon their graduation from our program. Unfortunately, we didn’t win enough to achieve some of our goals. … I think this is a team that will challenge for an America East championship in the immediate future.”
HARD PLACE TO BUILD A PROGRAM
Only 48 of the 351 Division I men’s head basketball coaches have coached at their schools longer than Woodward. Will Brown of Albany is the longest-tenured coach in America East, with 13 seasons. His teams have reached four NCAA tournaments, including this year.
Brown praised Woodward for his recruiting, saying his teams always had size and talent. But he acknowledged the challenges inherent in Orono.
“I think, because of location, you need to be creative at a place like Maine,” Brown said in an email. “Maine is the toughest trip in the conference for most programs. I know it is for us, and I don’t enjoy the long trip.
“I actually thought our game at Maine this year was enjoyable. The game was played in ‘The Pit’ and it was a nice atmosphere. Probably the best atmosphere at Maine since I have been at Albany. … This is what you need to build a program.”
Creech said he did not speak to the players who decided to transfer. Three others left the university at the end of last year. A total of 455 Division I men’s basketball players transferred in 2013.
Creech said it was his understanding that the transfers weren’t related to Woodward, but rather players seeking better situations elsewhere.
Creech said he has already started researching coaches who are available.
“I’m looking for someone to come in and rekindle that tradition of Maine basketball,” he said.
“I think the men’s basketball program is very important to our athletic department. It’s a program that, if we win the America East championship and are competing for a championship, can put us on a national stage,” Creech said. “It’s very important for our brand recognition.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: