Coverage from:
The Boston Herald - 3/23
The Springfield Union-News - 3/23
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - 3/23
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - 3/23, Scott interview
The Boston Globe - 3/23
The News & Record - 3/23
The Bergen Record - 3/23
The Washington Post - 3/24
The Philadelphia Inquirer - 3/24
The Boston Globe - 3/24
The Springfield Union-News - 3/24
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - 3/24
The Philadelphia Inquirer - 3/24
The Bergen Record - 3/24
The Springfield Union-News - Lappas leader, 3/25
The Springfield Union-News - minority concerns, 3/25
The Boston Herald - Lappas leader, 3/25
The Boston Globe - Lappas leader, 3/25
The Philadelphia Inquirer - Lappas resignation, 3/25

George Mason coach next at UMass
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 3/23/2001

Jim Larranaga, the 51-year-old George Mason coach who has taken his team to the NCAA tournament the last two years, will interview with athletic director Bob Marcum today for the vacant UMass men's coaching job.

Larranaga, a former coach at AIC who came to prominence as an assistant coach under Terry Holland at Virginia and later as a head coach at Bowling Green, was highly recommended to Marcum by Holland and Bobby Cremins.

His interview comes two days after UNC-Greensboro's Fran McCaffery turned in what was considered to be an exceptional interview with Marcum, the UMass trustees and president William Bulger. Many consider McCaffery, who interviewed at La Salle yesterday, the front-runner.

Despite reports that an interview had been set up with Hofstra's Jay Wright, Marcum said nothing firm has been established with the coach, who is still said to be the top candidate at Rutgers.

But contrary to a message passed on to Marcum this week by Kent athletic director Laing Kennedy, Gary Waters may indeed be a viable candidate for the UMass job.

Waters, a popular young coach and Detroit native who is on the short list for the opening at Michigan, said yesterday that he would be interested in hearing more about the UMass job.

``I haven't been contacted - I haven't even heard from UMass - but I'd have to talk to them,'' said Waters, who has already responded positively to a request from Rhode Island for an interview. ``That's a good job.''

This is apparently not the impression Marcum derived from his conversation with Kennedy.

``He left a message for me saying that we had permission to talk (to Waters), but that he wasn't interested in talking to people,'' Marcum said last night.

Kennedy, while reiterating yesterday that he gave permission to UMass, said, ``We're quite confident that we'll be able to keep coach Waters.''

Marcum said that as a result of Waters' newfound interest in UMass, ``We should look into it.''

Meanwhile, Bruiser Flint interviewed with Drexel yesterday - a day after what he considered a good meeting with Duquesne officials - and said he intends to meet with Northeastern athletic director Ian McCaw on Monday.

Though Flint is still considered a frontrunner for the Duquesne job, athletic director Brian Colleary will schedule more interviews, starting with Robert Morris coach Danny Nee, the former coach at Nebraska. . . . St. Bonaventure coach Jim Baron, who interviewed at UMass on Tuesday, will sit down with Rhode Island officials today.

Waters may jump in the pool
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 3/23/2001

AMHERST Kent State men's basketball coach Gary Waters said yesterday that he would be interested in the University of Massachusetts job, if only someone would ask him.

His comments came the day after UMass athletic director Bob Marcum had ruled Waters out, apparently because Marcum had been led to believe the coach wasn't interested.

The case of Waters gave the UMass job search a curious turn just as George Mason's Jim Larranaga, who coached American International College from 1977-79, entered the picture. Larranaga will visit UMass today.

Waters is considered one of America's best coaching prospects from among the mid-major schools. He is also the most prominent minority candidate to be publicly mentioned in the search to replace Bruiser Flint, who resigned under pressure March 12.

Yesterday, Kent State athletic director Laing Kennedy said UMass had asked for permission to talk to Waters, and received it. But according to sources, Marcum backed off because parties close to Kent State said Waters wasn't interested in any other jobs.

Wednesday, though, Waters' name surfaced in connection with the open job at Rhode Island. He said yesterday that if UMass called, he'd listen.

"I haven't been contacted," Waters said. "I haven't even heard from UMass.

"I'd have to talk to them," he said. "That's a good job."

Marcum did not return phone calls yesterday.

Michigan is reportedly interested in Waters, but the coach said Rhode Island is the only school to contact him so far.

Yesterday, Waters did not sound like a man shying away from the prospect of getting offers. And now that his interest in UMass is known, the door is open for Marcum to contact him after all.

Kennedy predicts Waters, who led Kent State to a first-round NCAA tournament upset of Indiana, won't be going anywhere.

"I'm quite confident we'll be able to keep coach Waters," the athletic director said.

The UMass search, meanwhile, continued with the reported addition of Larranaga, George Mason's coach since 1997.

After his AIC stint, he was an assistant at Virginia and an 11-year head coach at Bowling Green. He then went to George Mason, which lost 83-80 to Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Larranaga joins a candidates' pool that includes North Carolina-Greensboro's Fran McCaffery, St. Bonaventure's Jim Baron and Hofstra's Jay Wright.

McCaffery's interview went so well Wednesday he may have positioned himself as the front-runner. Wright's situation remains iffy, since he is considered the front-runner at Rutgers, which is also viewed as his first choice.

Wright interviewed with Rutgers Wednesday night, but athletic director Robert Mulcahy indicated he will speak with other candidates.

With no deal set yet, New Jersey media have reported he is also willing to talk to UMass.

Of the candidates who have visited UMass, McCaffery interviewed at La Salle yesterday, and Baron is scheduled to visit Rhode Island today.

"Nothing has happened, so there really isn't much to talk about," Baron said. "I was very impressed with UMass, but I don't want to get into comparisons. I don't think it helps anybody.

"I don't want to say anything that would degrade where I'm at, because there are quality people here as well," he said.

In related news, sources said shooting guard Eddie Basden of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md., plans to seek his release from a letter of intent with UMass, signed when Flint was the coach.

More hoop coach candidates
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/23/2001

George Mason's Jim Larranaga will be candidate No. 3 and Kent State's Gary Waters could be No. 4 for the vacant University of Massachusetts head coaching position.

Larranaga, who led the Patriots to the Colonial Athletic Championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament, will interview Friday at UMass. Larranaga follows St. Bonaventure's Jim Baron and UNC-Greensboro's Fran McCaffery.

Larranaga's No. 13 Patriots (18-12) were narrowly defeated by four-seed Maryland, 83-80.

Larranaga finished his fourth year at George Mason, where he has a 65-52 record with two NCAA tournament trips. The first came in 1998, when former Minuteman Derek Kellogg was an assistant coach on his staff. His three consecutive winning seasons came after a stretch in which the Patriots suffered eight losing campaigns in a row.

Larranaga, 52, who also has coached at Bowling Green and American International College in Springfield, has a career record of 263-221.

Meanwhile, Waters apparently is interested in UMass after all.

Earlier this week, Minuteman Athletic Director Bob Marcum received a voice mail from Kent State Athletic Director Laing Kennedy giving UMass permission to speak with Waters, but Kennedy said Waters was not interested in speaking with officials from any schools at the time.

Kennedy said Thursday the situation had changed.

"That was true at the time, but it has since changed," he said.

Waters was quoted Thursday as saying he would be interested in speaking with Rhode Island officials about their vacancy.

Reached by phone in his office, Waters said UMass had not contacted him.

"UMass? I never even talked to UMass. I haven't heard anything from them," he said, adding that he might be interested. "I'd have to take a look at it, but I'd listen to them."

He added that the Minuteman program seemed on more solid footing than Rhode Island's.

"UMass is already a good program," he said. "Rhode Island needs to re-establish itself."

Informed of Waters' interest, Marcum said he planned to contact the 49-year-old coach shortly.

Waters led the Golden Flashes to a 24-10 record this season, highlighted by a first-round NCAA tournament upset of Indiana.

He has a career record of 92-60 in five years, an average of 18.5 wins a year.

The Associated Press listed Waters' base salary at $125,000 with other income that brought it to more than $200,000. Marcum has said the total financial package that UMass will offer a prospective candidate is between $300,000 and 400,000.

Scott gives views on coach
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/23/2001

David K. Scott would be the first to say that when it comes to basketball or sports in general he's not an X's and O's guy, but the University of Massachusetts chancellor is taking considerable interest in the institution's search for a new men's basketball coach.

Scott has met with candidates Jim Baron and Fran McCaffery during their visits this week.

"I'm more interested in their overall philosophy toward student athletes, their thoughts on graduation and motivation," he began Thursday. "I'm interested in how they plan on exciting and engaging the student body and the fans, their thoughts on discipline and how they motivate students.

"Do they need to swear and yell and scream to be successful or do they have other methods of motivation," he continued. "I'm interested in what they think of the student athlete relationship. My philosophy is that you don't have to win all the time, just move in a general upward trajectory."

He was impressed with the coaches who have interviewed so far.

"I was very impressed with both," Scott said. "Both gave me booklets that set out their philosophies. I've never really interviewed a coach or any other position where the people were that well prepared."

The coaching search came as a result of Bruiser Flint's forced resignation from the position nearly two weeks ago.

Scott, who signed off on that decision, said it wasn't easy.

"Contrary to what's been written, this is not a place where we treat our coaches harshly," he said. "We give them time to develop. We want them to be successful. We don't want to have to make changes. We didn't arrive at the decision lightly."

After Flint's ousting, some members of the African-American community voiced concerns about whether blacks would be included as candidates to replace him or as part of the search committee to find a replacement.

Scott stressed his commitment to diversity overall, as well as in the athletic department.

"I put a big emphasis on diversity in all components of the university, especially in these high-visibility positions," he said. "A lot of people around the country see us from sports programs on national television. We strive for diversity in all our sports, even cheerleading."

He pointed to the fact that last month, seven of the university's approximately 60 head and assistant coaches were "people of color", which equates to about 12 percent. The number has decreased to three with Flint and two black assistants being fired, and football assistant coach Gerard Wilcher taking a job at Colgate. Scott said the numbers could increase again when new coaches are hired.

Scott will depart at the end of this academic year after eight years as the UMass chancellor. He is leaving with pride in what UMass athletics has stood for during his tenure.

"I believe in the value of athletics combined with student life," Scott said. "The United States puts a tremendous amount of pressure on kids and sports. Because of that pressure and the societal interest in sports, some kids put their emphasis on athletics over academics. I think it is our duty to help make up for that."

UMass nearing decision
McCaffery in lead, but Wright in mix
By Mark Blaudschun, The Boston Globe Staff, 3/23/2001

Despite a flurry of maneuverings to move up a planned interview with Hofstra coach Jay Wright, North Carolina-Greensboro coach Fran McCaffery remains the favorite to be the next University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach, with an announcement expected early next week.

''He impressed everyone he met,'' UMass athletic director Bob Marcum said yesterday in describing the reaction to the daylong series of interviews McCaffery had with school officials and trustees Wednesday. ''There is no question about it.''

Marcum, who will talk with George Mason coach Jim Larranga today, stopped short of saying McCaffery would be offered the job in the next 48 hours. ''We still have a few things we have to look at and a few people we need to meet with, but I would say we're moving along in the process,'' said Marcum.

McCaffery spent yesterday in Philadelphia, where he met with representatives from La Salle.

The talks went so well that La Salle reportedly wants to fly McCaffery back to Philadelphia to meet the school president and offer him a job.

McCaffery clearly considers the UMass job his top choice and hopes a decision can be made quickly.

''I guess I just have to sit tight for the weekend,'' McCaffery said last night after arriving back home in North Carolina. ''It's going to make for an awkward weekend because we have some recruits coming in here. We'll just wait and see what happens.''

The other factor continues to be Wright. He is scheduled to meet with Marcum Tuesday, but Marcum would like to meet with Wright Sunday.

''I would certainly like to talk to Jay,'' Marcum said yesterday. ''And I would like to do it by the end of the weekend. If he doesn't feel he can do that, then we'll just move on.''

Wright was thought to be the favorite for the job at Rutgers, which opened when Kevin Bannon was fired Tuesday.

But as of yesterday, Scarlet Knights AD Bob Mulcahy had only talked to Wright on the phone, with a face-to-face meeting tentatively scheduled for early next week.

And now Wright seems to be among a pool of candidates - including Providence coach Tim Welsh - Mulcahy might pursue, a process that could take several days.

Marcum will not wait that long. He will see if Wright wants to talk, but made it clear that he would not wait very long to make a decision.

Which brings UMass back to McCaffery, who still looks like the surest bet on the board for the Minutemen at the moment.

While UMass was winding down its process, former Minutemen coach Bruiser Flint finished a busy week of traveling by interviewing for the opening at Drexel.

Flint came to Philadelphia after spending all day Wednesday meeting with Duquesne officials, who left Flint with the impression an offer would be forthcoming.

''I had a good visit and they expressed a desire to increase their commitment,'' said Flint. ''It would certainly be a job I would consider taking. It's in the Atlantic 10, and they say they want to get things done. My impression was that they just had to talk a few things over and they would get back to me.''

That might be delayed, because yesterday Duquesne apparently had some new targets, although Flint was under the impression he was still at the top of the list.

''I'm going to go back home and take a look at the choices I have,'' said Flint, who will meet with Northeastern AD Ian McCaw Monday morning.

McCaw reportedly has already talked with Brown coach Glen Miller and has an interview with McNeese State's Ron Everhart scheduled for later next week.

McCaffery meets with La Salle about coaching opportunity
The News & Record (Greensboro NC) Staff and Wire Reports, 3/23/2001

The merry-go-round continues to whirl for UNCG basketball coach Fran McCaffery.

McCaffery met with La Salle athletics director Tom Brennan Thursday for three-and-a-half hours. They did not go on campus, but McCaffery is very familiar with it because it's very close to where he grew up in Philadelphia.

McCaffery called the meeting "very productive" and said he was told he made a favorable impression. No contract terms were discussed.

A second meeting is scheduled Monday in which McCaffery will meet La Salle's president.

McCaffery said Thursday night that he had not heard back from Massachusetts, where he interviewed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Interest in McCaffery has been spurred because UNCG made the NCAA tournament this season, his second at the school.

excerpt from...
Wright won't come cheap to RU
By Kevin T. Czerwinski, The Bergen Record (New Jersey) Staff Writer, 3/23/2001

Rutgers athletic director Bob Mulcahy has begun his courtship of Jay Wright. But if he wants to hire the Hofstra coach to run his men's basketball program, he had better be prepared to put up a fight and shell out a great deal of money.

Sources close to the situation have confirmed that Wright will meet with University of Massachusetts athletic director Bob Marcum today. Marcum is prepared to offer Wright a multiyear deal worth at least $600,000 a year.

Wright isn't expected to meet with Mulcahy until next week. Sources have indicated, however, that he will be seeking a minimum five-year deal from Rutgers, with an annual salary of at least $500,000.

As for staying at Hofstra, that school's athletic director, Harry Royle, is expected to offer Wright double his salary -- he makes about $200,000 a year -- to stay in Hempstead. There appears little if any chance, though, that Wright will return to Hofstra.

Wright did not return repeated phone calls Thursday, but did appear on "GameFace," a sports talk show on MSG Metro, where he addressed his future.

"I love where I am, but at this point, with schools of that nature, I feel I have to listen," Wright said.

Mulcahy, meanwhile, ended his three-day media blackout Thursday. He confirmed that he had had preliminary conversations with Wright, but that the two have yet to meet face-to-face.

"We had a good conversation, but I don't want to speculate at this point what will happen," Mulcahy said. "But he is very impressive. We're just working out when we will meet now. We had a little trouble connecting today."

Mulcahy added that he hasn't set any timetable for replacing former coach Kevin Bannon.

When reached at his office Thursday, Royle seemed almost resigned to the fact that Wright won't be returning to Hofstra.

"This isn't about money," Royle said. "No one is going to be able to buy Jay Wright. If he leaves, it will be for a lot of intrinsic reasons, not some spendable income.

"This is about a better opportunity that he may see at another university. What is better is that it's another level of competition. He's a builder and why wouldn't he want to build at another level? He's not leaving to discover more money. He's leaving to discover other opportunities, both for him and his family."

Massachusetts Interviews G. Mason's Larranaga
From The Washington Post Staff Reports and News Services, 3/24/2001

George Mason men's basketball coach Jim Larranaga interviewed yesterday for the vacant coaching position at Massachusetts. Larranaga, 51, who has guided the Patriots to two Colonial Athletic Association titles in his four years at the Fairfax school, is among five candidates for the Massachusetts job, sources said.

Massachusetts, which fired Bruiser Flint last week, received permission to talk to Larranaga, who has two years remaining on his contract. George Mason Athletic Director Tom O'Connor said he has not been contacted by any other schools about Larranaga, and does not expect Massachusetts to make a decision until next week.

"I wouldn't want to see him go, but if he decides he wants to talk to any other people or eventually go, I'm not going to be a bump in the road for him," O'Connor said. "It's premature. . . . If it came to a point where he wanted to go, we would sit down and talk about a number of things, whether they be contractual or anything else."

Sources: Lappas out at Villanova
It is not clear whether the coach quit or was forced out. He is interested in the UMass job, sources said.
By Joe Juliano, The Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer, 3/24/2001

Steve Lappas, who coached Villanova's basketball team to 174 victories and seven postseason tournament berths in nine seasons, has parted company with the university, sources said today.

The university would neither confirm nor deny Lappas' departure. Athletic department spokesman Mike Sheridan said, "We have nothing to say at this time."

While confirming that Lappas was leaving, sources contacted by The Inquirer did not agree on whether he resigned voluntarily or if he was forced out by university president the Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin.

There is agreement that Lappas had been interested in the vacant head coaching job at Massachusetts. Sources said Lappas met with Father Dobbin to inform him of that fact, but what happened after that is not clear, and he left Dobbin's office no longer the head coach at Villanova.

Lappas could not be reached for comment last night.

Lappas, who celebrated his 47th birthday Sunday, signed a contract extension last July that would keep him as head coach through the 2003-2004 season. There was no word as to the amount of a buyout of that contract.

As for a possible successor, one of the hottest coaching names is Hofstra coach Jay Wright, a former Villanova assistant who led the Pride into the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. Wright, a Bucks County native, interviewed for the vacant head coaching position at Rutgers on Wednesday, but would be a top candidate should he have interested in the Villanova job.

Regarding the UMass position, CBS Sportsline reported on its web site that athletic director Bob Marcum said he would be interviewing Lappas "in the next day or two."

The Wildcats lost to Minnesota on March 14 in the National Invitation Tournament, closing their season with an 18-13 record. That left Lappas with a 174-110 record at Villanova.

Under Lappas' term, the Wildcats won 20 games six times and qualified for four NCAA tournaments and three NITs. They earned their last NCAA bid in 1999, but lost in the first round to Mississippi.

The Wildcats were 2-4 in the NCAA tournament under Lappas, a sore spot for some alumni who complained that the team's performance did not meet its talent when it came tournament time. A particularly brutal first-round loss came in 1995 when the third-seeded Wildcats were upset, 89-81, by No.14 Old Dominion.

During the Big East tournament, Lappas addressed a question on whether his team has underachieved.

"We've averaged 20 wins a year since I've been here, graduate all our guys," he said. "We won the only Big East Tournament championship in the history of the school, only NIT championship in the history of the school. I've got a four-year contract and graduate everybody.

"Are we happy? We're never happy. But I think we do OK."

Lappas now in the mix
Villanova coach intrigues UMass
By Mark Blaudschun, The Boston Globe Staff, 3/24/2001

In a bizarre turn of events, which could have significant ramifications at several schools, Villanova basketball coach Steve Lappas reportedly left his position yesterday to pursue the opening at the University of Massachusetts.

''I'm going to talk to him,'' said UMass athletic director Bob Marcum last night as he was finishing up a day of interviews with George Mason coach Jim Larranaga. ''Why wouldn't I? He's won consistently during his entire stay at Villanova.''

Last night, Marcum set up a campus visit for Lappas, which will come today when Lappas goes through the same interview process Larranaga, North Carolina-Greensboro's Fran McCaffery, and St. Bonaventure's Jim Baron did earlier this week.

Marcum would not be specific, but said he felt the search for a replacement for Bruiser Flint, who resigned two weeks ago, was in its final stages.

''I would like to have something done by the middle of next week,'' he said. ''But you never know. Sometimes unexpected things happen.''

The addition of Lappas to the mix would qualify as such an event. The rumors about Lappas started early yesterday and spread throughout the day. Just what happened at Villanova remains unclear, but what is more certain is that Lappas and UMass will talk, which puts everybody on hold for at least a day.

Before the Lappas entry, UMass was reportedly ready to offer the job to McCaffery, with an announcement expected as soon as Monday.

The final barrier to hiring McCaffery seemingly was taken down yesterday when Hofstra coach Jay Wright removed himself from consideration.

But Lappas's departure from Villanova also muddled the situation for Wright, who was regarded as the front-runner for the Rutgers opening. An opening at Villanova would trump Rutgers since Wright was a former assistant for the Wildcats under former coach Rollie Massimino. Wright grew up in the Philadelphia area and his wife, Patty, went to Villanova.

In addition to Rutgers, Tennessee also asked for and received permission to talk to Wright.

Although Lappas's overall record is outstanding - 174-110 over nine seasons - his postseason record is something less than that.

Under Lappas, Villanova was 2-4 in NCAA Tournament play. Included in those losses was a first-round defeat in 1995, when the No. 3 seed Wildcats lost to No. 14 Old Dominion.

In 1996, the Wildcats, again a No. 3 seed, beat Portland in an opening- round game, but were upset by No. 6 Louisville in the second round.

The Wildcats, seeded fourth the following year, made another second-round exit when they were defeated by No. 5 California. They didn't make the tournament in 1998, but were seeded eighth against No. 9 Mississippi in 1999 and were eliminated in the first round.

They missed the tournament the last two seasons and were first-round losers to Minnesota in this year's NIT.

Reports out of Philadelphia chronicled the unhappiness with Lappas over the past few years. Despite a four-year extension at the start of this season, there was reportedly a large faction of boosters who wanted Lappas out.

The question is whether UMass will hire him over McCaffery or Larranaga, who Marcum said was ''impressive.''

Marcum has made it clear he would like to have someone in place soon.

Flint was also in a waiting phase yesterday. He has already interviewed for openings at Duquesne and Drexel and will talk to Northeastern athletic director Ian McCaw Monday. Drexel reportedly wants him back for a second interview next week.

''I'm just going to wait and see what happens,'' said Flint, who plans to go to the Final Four in Minneapolis. ''I think the Duquesne situation could be a good one if the commitment is there, and they assure me it is.''

Duquesne appears to be the most likely place for Flint to settle. It is an Atlantic 10 school that reportedly wants to upgrade its program. The school is willing to boost the pay considerably from what Darryl Porter was making (reportedly less than $100,000 a year) before he was fired two weeks ago.

Flint said yesterday he has heard no definitive word from Duquesne yet. The interview process is still under way. Once that phase is over, Flint should emerge as the front-runner.

UMass eyes Lappas
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 3/24/2001

AMHERST Just as Fran McCaffery seemed to be closing in on the job, Steve Lappas vaulted into the University of Massachusetts men's basketball coaching picture and perhaps into the lead.

And all this on a day that George Mason's Jim Larranaga went through his interview at UMass, a visit that seemed important at noon but old and insignificant news by nightfall. reported that Lappas' dismissal from Villanova will be announced today, and sources say Lappas is on his way to Amherst today, possibly with the inside track on getting the job.

The shocking turn of events came just as McCaffery, the North Carolina-Greensboro coach who interviewed at UMass Wednesday, seemed poised to replace Bruiser Flint. Yesterday, McCaffery said he hoped to hear from UMass by tomorrow.

It had looked quite possible he'd get an offer by the end of the weekend, especially since sources said Hofstra's Jay Wright an attractive but apparently unavailable candidate was bowing out of the UMass picture. But everything changed with the report that Lappas was out at Villanova and a top candidate at UMass.

His dismissal is expected to be announced today. On the heels of that report, ESPN analysts Dick Vitale and Andy Katz both said Lappas figures into the UMass picture.

CBS SportsLine quoted UMass athletic director Bob Marcum as saying he would interview Lappas in the coming days.

Wright, meanwhile, is positioned as a candidate at Rutgers, Tennessee and now Villanova with Lappas' removal. The Hofstra coach interviewed with Rutgers Wednesday night, and is scheduled to meet with the school again next week.

Wright was originally scheduled to talk with UMass Tuesday, but Marcum wanted to meet with Wright by the weekend, rather than wait out his negotiations with Rutgers into next week.

The unlikely chance of winning a competition for Wright seemed to leave McCaffery as the odds-on favorite at UMass. McCaffery seemed guardedly optimistic this week, and La Salle's interest along with Wright's wavering seemed to be pushing the North Carolina-Greensboro coach's candidacy forward at a rapid clip.

Gary Waters also belatedly entered the UMass picture yesterday. The Kent State coach said he received a message on his answering machine yesterday from UMass associate athletic director William D. Strickland, who has making many of the contacts.

Whether that makes Waters a true candidate probably depends on how fast a decision is forthcoming. If a deal really is imminent in the next two or three days, the call to Waters might amount to little more than a courtesy call.

If not, though, Waters would like to be considered.

The UMass job has been expected to pay between $350,000 and $400,000, including incentives. Whether Lappas could command more remains to be seen.

Villanova was 18-13 this year and lost in the first round of the NIT at Minnesota. In nine years with the Wildcats, Lappas is 174-112 and has reached the NCAA tournament four times, most recently in 1999.

Former UMass coach Bruiser Flint, meanwhile, has set up a second interview at Drexel Tuesday. He will have his initial meeting with Northeastern Monday, and remains optimistic about Duquesne, too.

Duquesne will meet with former Nebraska coach Danny Nee and former Pittsburgh and Navy coach Paul Evans. Flint is considered the front-runner there, but decided to continue talks with Drexel.

Lappas now UMass candidate
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/24/2001

The University of Massachusetts' search for a new men's basketball coach was turned upside down Friday as outgoing Villanova coach Steve Lappas emerged as the leading candidate.

Villanova has made no announcement on Lappas' ouster, but the school is expected to make that official Saturday, according to several national media sources.

University of Massachusetts Athletic Director Bob Marcum confirmed that he had spoken to Lappas and was trying to set up an interview.

"We put a call in and we're trying to firm something up," said Marcum. "We're pleased at his interest in our job. He's certainly a very proven product."

Marcum neither confirmed nor denied that Lappas is now the leading candidate.

"With his reputation you could come to that conclusion," Marcum said. "But you need to sit down and talk about some things first."

Marcum said he was surprised that Lappas is available.

"Yes I was. No doubt about it," Marcum said. But I've been in this business long enough to know that things like this happen."

Lappas, 45, coached Villanova to an 18-13 season that finished with an 87-78 loss to Minnesota in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. He was 174-110 in nine years at Villanova with four trips to the NCAA Tournament, most recently in 1999. He was an assistant coach under Rollie Massimino on the Wildcats' 1985 national championship team.

Lappas was not available for comment.

His overall coaching record is 230-172, which also includes a stint at Manhattan College.

Villanova will have to pay a significant price to remove Lappas. The school extended his contract through 2004 following last season.

Villanova produced NBA players Kerry Kittles, Jason Lawson and Alvin Williams during Lappas' tenure there.

Marcum said that the Lappas news wouldn't affect the school's interview with George Mason coach Jim Larranaga, who began meetings with UMass officials Friday and will continue them on Saturday.

"Jim is a good coach," Marcum said. "He stands on his own merits."

St. Bonaventure's Jim Baron and UNC-Greensboro's Fran McCaffery have also interviewed for the coaching job.

Jay Wright, the Hofstra coach who was thought to be a leading candidate at Rutgers and a candidate at UMass as well, immediately has been mentioned as the top candidate at Villanova. Wright was scheduled to interview at UMass next week.

Lappas out at Villanova
By Dick Jerardi, The Philadelphia Daily News Sports Writer, 3/24/2001

In the bizarro world that coaching Division I basketball in Philadelphia has become over the last 21/2 weeks, out is in, down is up and anything is possible.

Steve Lappas is out as Villanova coach. He wasn't fired. He didn't exactly resign. And, very shortly, he will be announced as the new coach at Massachusetts, the Daily News has learned.

Apparently, Lappas made a pre-emptive strike before coaching's grim reaper could come for him after next year almost certainly promised a third consecutive season out of the NCAA Tournament. Sources say several friends told Lappas that if his team did not make the tournament next season, he would be gone. A contract extension he signed last summer took him through the 2003-04 season.

Most observers think All-America junior center Michael Bradley more likely than not will declare for the NBA draft. If that happens, Villanova's chances of making the 2002 NCAA Tournament would be poor.

Lappas apparently asked for assurances he would stay at Villanova for the long term. When he didn't get them, he looked for a way out. A go-between got Lappas and UMass athletic director Bob Marcum together. Lappas, sources say, went to Villanova's president, the Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, and told him of his interest in UMass. Yesterday afternoon, they agreed Lappas' tenure at Villanova would end immediately.

A news conference likely will be held at the school this afternoon, announcing that Lappas has resigned.

"We're not saying anything right now," Villanova spokesman Mike Sheridan said.

Lappas did not respond to numerous messages left for him last night.

In 16 days, half of the city's Division I coaches were either fired - La Salle's Speedy Morris and Drexel's Steve Seymour - or got out before being fired - Lappas. Apparently, he sensed his time was up here. And he acted.

Lappas, who just finished his ninth season, is only the fourth Villanova coach since 1936. Al Severance was there for 25 seasons, followed by Jack Kraft for 12 and Rollie Massimino for 19. Villanova was 18-13 this season and, for the second consecutive campaign, was likely one of the last teams left out of the NCAA Tournament. The team showed an inability to deal with pressure defense and faded badly after an 11-2 start.

The team swept the Big 5 but was just 8-8, with several ugly losses, in what turned out to be a mediocre Big East. Fans booed loudly at home games. When 'Nova was losing badly at home to Miami on Feb. 17, "Fire Lappas" calls repeatedly came out of the stands.

The Wildcats had a number of critical injuries in midseason, but that did nothing to lessen the heat on Lappas. It was no fun for him or his family, which had to endure the booing.

'Nova was invited to the National Invitation Tournament, but apparently Lappas did not want to play a home game, so concerned was he about the potential fan reaction.

When the 'Cats didn't get a home game, a story was put out that the women's team wanted the Ski Lodge available in case it was seeded high enough to host the first two rounds of the women's tournament. The women were seeded fifth in the East Regional at Raleigh, N.C. The men lost their first-round game at Minnesota. Bradley broke his nose.

Lappas was 174-110 on the Main Line. Counting four seasons at Manhattan, he is 230-172.

From 1993-94 to '96-97, his 'Nova teams went 95-37. They won the NIT in 1994 and the school's only Big East title in 1995. The Wildcats made the NCAAs four times and won at least 20 games six times.

Villanova was just 2-4 in the NCAAs during Lappas' tenure. The 'Cats lost three straight years in the first or second round as Nos. 3, 3 and 4 seed.

At two schools, Lappas took a losing situation and quickly turned it into a winner. Manhattan was among the worst programs in America when Lappas took the job in 1988. Four seasons later, Manhattan was 25-9.

Lappas was hired at Villanova in 1992. The Wildcats were just 67-61 in the four seasons before he arrived. He was 8-19 in his first season at 'Nova before his team went on that great four-year run.

"What's going on in that city?" Niagara coach Joe Mihalich, a former La Salle assistant, asked last night.

Apparently, Lappas saw what was happening and made certain it wouldn't happen to him.

His players had no clue.

"Somebody should have told the players," David Bradley, Michael's father, said from his home in Worcester, Mass. "The players are all calling Mike wanting to know if he knows anything. So the players are completely out in the cold at this moment, and so are the players' families. Mike and the other players don't know a thing right now. They're as shocked as everybody else."

Bradley especially has to wonder what he ever did to anybody. He originally committed to Boston College out of high school. BC coach Jim O'Brien got into a beef with the administration and left for Ohio State. Bradley signed with Rick Pitino and Kentucky. Pitino left for the Boston Celtics.

Bradley played two seasons for Tubby Smith at Kentucky. He transferred to Villanova, sat out a season and played last season for Lappas. Now this.

"How many coaches has Mike played for or going to play for?" David Bradley said. "You know his family feels right now."

They feel confused. They are not alone.

Potential candidates would include former Villanova player and Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon and former Villanova assistant and Hofstra head coach Jay Wright. Wright is a candidate at Rutgers and Tennessee. O'Hanlon and Ford have interviewed at La Salle.

The new coach will determine the fate of assistants Steve Pinone, Joe Jones and Chris Walker.

A blow for RU search
By Tara Sullivan, The Bergen Record (New Jersey) Staff Writer, 3/24/2001

PHILADELPHIA -- Rutgers' hopes of getting Hofstra coach Jay Wright to replace Kevin Bannon as men's basketball coach took a serious blow Friday when Villanova and coach Steve Lappas parted ways.

Wright, 39, is now an overwhelming favorite to replace Lappas, with sources near the situation saying the Philadelphia area school would not have allowed Lappas to leave without confidence it could lure Wright.

Before taking the Hofstra job seven years ago, Wright was an assistant coach at UNLV for two years under former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino. Prior to that, Wright was Massimino's assistant at Villanova from 1987-92.

For Rutgers, the void is big because Wright was by far the top choice of athletic director Bob Mulcahy, and Rutgers officials are scrambling to assemble a readjusted list of candidates.

Top status might belong to Providence head coach Tim Welsh, who finished as a runner-up to Bannon four years ago. Welsh led the Friars into the NCAA tournament this season, but is rumored to be coveted by North Carolina State. Though Herb Sendek is still the Wolfpack coach, that may not last long and he soon could join former boss Rick Pitino, the new Louisville coach.

The Welsh possibility is further clouded by the fact that the Big East has never had one school hire another school's head coach. But Rutgers sources think conference commissioner Mike Tranghese might not object if it means keeping Welsh in the Big East rather than the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Sources say other coaches who have put out feelers to Rutgers are former University of Miami coach and current Washington Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton, and former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins.

Rutgers sources also confirmed that Mulcahy's list might include Seton Hall assistant coach Fred Hill Jr., son of legendary Rutgers baseball coach Fred Hill. Hill has not yet been contacted, but that could happen over the weekend.

Other names in the mix include Kent State coach Gary Waters and Marquette coach Dennis Crean.

Lappas apparently is headed to UMass. Wright removed his name from consideration at UMass on Friday, according to his agent/adviser Carl Hirsh.

Hirsh said Wright was in negotiations to interview at Rutgers and Tennessee next week, but Villanova hadn't contacted him. He professed no knowledge of Villanova's interest in Wright.

"I am not anticipating talking to him [Wright] tonight," Hirsh said Friday evening, noting that Wright was spending the day with his family. "I hope he does not call me."

However, another source close to Wright said that the coach's current order of preference for jobs is Villanova, followed by Hofstra, and then Rutgers.

Still, it seems unlikely that Hofstra will be able to keep a man who has emerged as one of the nation's hottest coaching candidates. Only UMass is officially out of the mix.

"I talked to [UMass athletic director] Bob Marcum [Friday] and we've withdrawn," Hirsh said from his office in South Jersey. "The feeling was that the move Jay is going to make is to one of the big-power conferences."

Hirsh confirmed that Wright met face-to-face with Mulcahy on Wednesday night, though he did not know where they met or if Wright had yet been on the Rutgers campus.

He said no job offer was made to Wright on Wednesday and that the discussion was just a first step in the interview process. Hirsh said the idea of rebuilding Rutgers does not scare Wright.

"Hey, seven years ago nobody knew about Hofstra either," Hirsh said. Wright has led the Pride to two consecutive NCAA tournament berths.

Sources at Rutgers said the school would be willing to pay Wright "Greg Schiano money," which refers to the new football coach's salary package of about $500,000 annually.

Both Wright and Schiano are graduates of Bucknell University. Hirsh said Wright is not just looking for the highest offer, but for what he believes is the right fit.

"He only wants to make one more move," Hirsh said. "So it has to be the right job."

With Villanova as the newest player, that fit might be a whole lot easier to find.

UMass ready to hire ex-Villanova coach
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 3/25/2001

AMHERST Steve Lappas will be announced as the men's basketball coach at the University of Massachusetts, probably as early as today, barring any last-minute holdups in the administrative process.

The stunning hiring of Lappas, who resigned from Villanova Friday, would end a whirlwind set of events over a 24-hour period. On Friday morning, North Carolina-Greensboro coach Fran McCaffery seemed all but set to become the new coach, and Lappas' name had not even publicly entered the picture.

Even yesterday morning, while Lappas was meeting with UMass officials in Boston, George Mason coach Jim Larranaga one of four candidates to formally interview for the UMass job was completing interviews that began Friday at the Amherst campus.

But once Lappas finished his interviews with UMass President William M. Bulger and other officials, the deal was done pending the approval of UMass Chancellor David K. Scott, who was unavailable for yesterday morning's meetings. That was expected to take place with no complications late last night, completing the deal, according to two sources.

It would end a search that began when Bruiser Flint was forced to resign March 12. It brings to UMass a coach with Big East experience and a strong recruiting background, though also one who had fallen out of popularity at Villanova after missing the last two NCAA tournaments.

The only delay might come if Scott wants to meet at length with Lappas. The chancellor has said he wanted to devote an hour to each candidate.

UMass Athletic Director Bob Marcum has been trying to nail down a quick decision. He was facing his own unofficial deadline because McCaffery, the front-runner until Lappas stepped in, was hoping to hear word on his candidacy this weekend.

As recently as yesterday, it looked like McCaffery would get the job. UMass was his first preference, but he is also a front-runner at La Salle and wanted to hear from UMass quickly before losing the La Salle opportunity, too.

Larranaga, the American International College coach from 1977-79, began interviews at UMass Friday. His continued presence yesterday left him as at least a fall-back candidate if things didn't work out with Lappas, and if McCaffery wound up at La Salle.

Length and terms of Lappas' deal with UMass are not known. Four years is a common length in such transactions.

UMass also was offering between $350,000 and $400,000 per year for the job, with incentives, and Lappas will command at least that much.

Whether Lappas quit or was fired at Villanova was at first unclear. But a statement from Lappas yesterday treated the situation as if he left by choice, and sources confirmed it.

"This was a tremendously difficult decision for me and my family to make," Lappas said. "We're thankful for our time at Villanova."

The question of quitting or getting fired may also have been moot for all but financial reasons, because both sides had reason to pull out. Even though he had three years left on a four-year contact, Lappas knew he faced dismissal next year if he missed the NCAA tournament for a third straight year.

With 6-foot-10 junior center and Worcester native Michael Bradley expected to join the NBA Draft, it seemed unlikely that Villanova would be in the 2002 NCAA field. That left Lappas knowing he was in an insecure position when last week he entered a meeting with Villanova president Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin.

Philadelphia media also reported Lappas told Dobbin he was interested in the UMass job. One version stated Lappas was so sure of landing at UMass that he quit; another said that when Dobbin learned of Lappas' wandering eyes for UMass, he knew it was time to part company.

But the sequence of events suggests that in less than 24 hours, Lappas left Villanova, arranged meetings with UMass officials in Boston and Amherst, and was all but hired pending Scott's approval. With candidates seeking several jobs and time of the essence, UMass administrators had been aware of the possibility of weekend meetings before yesterday.

Lappas was 174-110 in nine years at Villanova, including 18-13 overall and 8-8 in the Big East this year. The Wildcats lost to Minnesota in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

But in many ways, Lappas' recent problems mirrored those of Flint at UMass he was booed at home, faced questions from alumni about underachieving teams and was not successful in post-season play.

Villanova reached four NCAA tournaments from 1995-99, but lost to a lower-seeded team each time, including No. 14 seed Old Dominion in 1995. Lappas' Villanova teams were 2-4 in the NCAA tournament.

Like Flint last year, Lappas also faced the prospect of entering a season with an NCAA tournament-or-else scenario, made much harder if Bradley turned pro.

On the plus side, Lappas rebuilt a poor Manhattan program in the late 1980s, and pulled Villanova out of stagnation after arriving in 1992.

Lappas, St. Bonaventure's Jim Baron, McCaffery and Larranaga interviewed at UMass. A fifth, Hofstra's Jay Wright, was contacted by Marcum but faded from the picture after he became a hot candidate at Rutgers, Tennessee and then Villanova when Lappas resigned.

Minority void concerns UMass professor
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 3/25/2001

AMHERST Upset at the virtual absence of minority representation in the athletic department, a prominent University of Massachusetts faculty member is predicting a rift between the department and segments of the academic community.

Afro-American Studies professor John H. Bracey Jr. remains angry at athletic director Bob Marcum following the departure of men's basketball coach Bruiser Flint, who submitted a forced resignation March 12.

Flint left after a negative recommendation from Marcum. Yesterday, UMass administrators were leaning toward hiring Steve Lappas, pending final approval from Chancellor David K. Scott, who was scheduled to meet with officials last night.

North Carolina-Greensboro coach Fran McCaffery retained an outside chance of being hired if Lappas was not.

But the removal of Flint the highest-profile African-American in UMass sports and the nature of a search process that involved no interviews with minorities has left Bracey questioning the image and priorities of an athletic department virtually devoid of black representation.

Of 36 athletic administrative staff members listed in the 2000-01 UMass men's basketball media guide, only two health enhancement director Robin Harris and campus recreation director Zulma Garcia are not white.

In the upper echelons of the department, there are no African-Americans among 13 positions eight associate athletic directors, three assistant athletic directors, the athletic director and a compliance officer.

There are two full-time African-American coaches, women's basketball assistant Jackie Moore and Sean Spencer, a football assistant who begins work tomorrow.

A graduate assistant, Derrick Arnold, serves as a football coach.

"For a department with 29 sports, that's pathetic," Bracey said. "I think the issues of minority representation and academics are tied together, because the perception is that minorities are just on campus to play on the teams."

The loss of Flint, he said, removed a crucial liaison between the academic and athletic worlds, and a role model for minority students. He credited Flint with having strong academic values.

"This is still a university," Bracey said. "It's not a farm team for the NBA. I think academics are way down on Bob Marcum's list of priorities."

Marcum did not return phone calls last week. Scott defended UMass' commitment to diversity, and its relationship to academics.

"My view is that every section of the university should strive for diversity," Scott said. "I believe that should be constantly stressed."

Scott said the basketball hiring process has involved not only Marcum but the chancellor's office, the Athletic Council, provost's office, Board of Trustees and some faculty. The diversity among those groups, Scott said, assured a balanced review.

He also said the relative absence of black coaches was temporary. When the new men's basketball staff is hired, it's almost certain some blacks will be included.

The contracts of Flint and his staff, including minority assistants Geoff Arnold and Jose "Chuck" Martin, run until June. The assistants could be retained by the new coach, though a completely new staff is more likely.

"It's just the transition that's happening now," Scott said. He said the university has generally had about seven persons of color (African-American and other ethnicities) among 60 to 65 coaches.

"That's not huge, but it's not bad," Scott said. African-Americans make up about 3 percent of the campus population, and ethnic minorities in general make up about 17 percent, Bracey said.

All four candidates to interview for the men's basketball job were white. The only prominent black candidate, Kent State coach Gary Waters, was not contacted until Friday, and only after UMass had originally ruled him out without talking to him.

Soon after Flint left, Marcum sought and received permission to talk to Waters. But he never did, instead relying on information he had been given that Waters was not interested in other jobs.

Thursday, Waters said he would be interested, but that UMass had never contacted him. Friday, he received his first inquiry from UMass associate athletic director William D. Strickland.

That day, however, Lappas' resignation at Villanova became known, though it wasn't announced until yesterday. Lappas met with UMass officials in Boston yesterday, with the prospect of being hired almost immediately.

"What about the search process?" asked Bracey, who said one result of his dissatisfaction with the athletic department may be a re-examination of the practice of granting special academic arrangements for athletes who travel extensively during the season.

His doubts about the athletic department's priorities, he said, make him question whether his cooperation is well-placed.

"Nothing in any rule book says I have to do that," Bracey said. "I don't have to care if they're playing for the national championship. If they're supposed to be in class, they're supposed to be in class."

Matthew W. Komer, academic adviser for the men's basketball team, said the denial of scheduling flexibility would make it very hard for student-athletes to keep up with their course work.

"If the players aren't here (on campus)," Komer said, "how are they going to take the tests?"

Flint distanced himself from the racial overtones of his case.

"I think any coach should be able to pick his own assistants," he said last Sunday. "But as for why there are no blacks in the administration, you'd have to ask Bob Marcum."

Marcum has disputed Bracey's claims that he undermined Flint, pointing out Flint was hired as coach under his administration in 1996. He also gave Flint a two-year contract extension in 1998.

UMass has also been credited with a strong record in another minority category, women's athletics, during Marcum's tenure.

Last week, Marcum again defended the department's diversity record, even as he said he would seek to fill Flint's spot with the best candidate, minority or otherwise.

"I don't think we've ever excluded minorities, and we won't this time," he said. "I think our record speaks for itself. We know where the good coaches are."

Lappas set to land UMass job
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 3/25/2001

Steve Lappas, a day after resigning his post at Villanova, was poised to become UMass' next men's basketball coach last night, with an announcement expected as early as this morning.

After a day's worth of meetings in Boston with the university's trustees and president William Bulger, followed by another round with members of the athletic administration in Amherst, Lappas' only remaining interview was scheduled with outgoing Chancellor David Scott. Scott's approval was said to be the final stamp on Lappas' appointment.

Scott, reportedly traveling yesterday, was expected to return for his discussion with Lappas last night.

And judging from past comments made by the chancellor, his role in hiring a coach to replace Bruiser Flint was not as influential as his part in Flint's resignation two weeks ago.

``I rely on others to judge the coaching,'' Scott said at the time. ``I look at the candidate's values, and what they aspire to in their programs.''

UMass athletic director Bob Marcum, who has not returned calls from the Herald since Lappas' rise to the top of Marcum's list on Friday, was the beneficiary of a lightning-quick change of circumstances over the last two days.

George Mason coach Jim Larranaga, with what was considered an impressive interview on Friday, was still on campus when Lappas arrived in Boston yesterday morning.

UNC-Greensboro coach Fran McCaffery went into the weekend believing he was the front-runner for the job - with Marcum pushing to resolve the matter by today - but was still waiting for news after speaking with Marcum late yesterday afternoon.

``Bob said everything is where it was and no decision had been made,'' McCaffery said. ``As far as I know, I'm still in the mix and I was happy to hear that. . . . (Marcum) said I'll hear from him (today).''

The situation changed with an end to Lappas' oft-pained relationship with the Villanova community and the Philadelphia media - much of it stemming from the Wildcats' repeated inability to produce in the postseason, despite a fairly regular stream of talent into the program.

Lappas was reportedly confronted with a one-year ultimatum to improve the program by Villanova officials, who considered this year's 18-13 season, which culminated in a first-round NIT elimination by Minnesota, to be another underachievement. They were also reportedly worried about the prospect of losing Hofstra's Jay Wright - one of the hottest candidates in the country - to Rutgers.

Lappas, who signed a four-year contract extension last spring, approached his superiors with the hope of receiving a long-term assurance last week, but he turned his attention to the UMass opening when his plea was rejected.

And when Lappas told university president Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin that he was interested in the UMass opening, Dobbin reportedly asked him to resign.

Lappas told the UMass trustees yesterday that Worcester's Mike Bradley - the junior All-America center who was at the core of Villanova's success this year - was most likely going to leave Villanova early for this summer's NBA draft, further complicating what would have been his make-or-break year next season.

His statement came in the midst of repeated questions from the trustees about the unusual nature of Lappas' departure from Villanova, as well as his sudden appearance with Marcum.

Lappas' repeated response to the trustees was that he felt it was time ``for a change.''

The bulk of his meeting with the trustees yesterday was said to be impressive, with Lappas promoting his background, which includes a 174-110 record over nine seasons at Villanova, to great effect.

The tone of his presentation was even said to be visionary - even a step above McCaffery's own impressive showing in front of the board last Wednesday.

Overall, Lappas reportedly exuded an upbeat, proactive tone that had some members of the board later associating his attitude with the romantic John Calipari/Rick Pitino ideal that so many have come to cherish.

Minutemen believe Lappas has Mass appeal
By Mark Blaudschun, The Boston Globe Staff, 3/25/2001

After a day of meetings, former Villanova coach Steve Lappas emerged yesterday as the front-runner for the head coaching job at the University of Massachusetts, with negotiations under way to sign Lappas to a five-year deal that could pay a total compensation package in excess of $600,000 a year.

But there is a sticking point in the negotiations, which could turn UMass away from Lappas and toward North Carolina-Greensboro coach Fran McCaffery.

In either case, UMass is expected to have an announcement as soon as tomorrow as to its new coach.

Lappas, who resigned from Villanova Friday, flew into Boston yesterday morning to meet with UMass president William Bulger and other Board of Trustee members. He then drove to Amherst with athletic director Bob Marcum to meet with other school officials.

Should talks with Lappas break down, the Minutemen might not be able to offer McCaffery the position.

Late yesterday, Rutgers jumped in as a major contender, so much so that McCaffery might be signed by today, which is when UMass had hoped to fill its vacancy.

Supposedly Lappas, who had a 174-110 record over nine seasons at Villanova, was tired of the sniping directed at his 2-4 record in NCAA Tournament play. During his tenure the Wildcats never beat a lower-seeded team, and even lost in the first round to Old Dominion in triple overtime as a No. 3 seed in 1995.

He started looking for another job last season, but when Villanova gave him a four-year contract extension at the beginning of this season, Lappas thought he had ridden out the worst criticism.

But when the Wildcats stumbled to an 18-13 record and lost in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament to Minnesota, the skeptics spoke up again.

He accelerated his pursuit of other opportunities. Through an intermediary, Lappas came in contact with Marcum, who was riding out the final stages of Bruiser Flint's five-year run at UMass, which ended two weeks ago when the 15-15 Minutemen were shut out of postseason play.

Marcum brought in St. Bonaventure coach Jim Baron, McCaffery, and George Mason coach Jim Larranaga for extensive interviews, with McCaffery and Larranaga emerging as the favorites. But certain members of the administration felt McCaffery didn't have the ''star quality'' they wanted in a coach and told Marcum to find a more high-profile candidate.

Apparently Lappas, a Big East coach with a .613 winning percentage, six 20-win seasons, and an NIT championship (1994), met that qualification.

When Lappas told Villanova officials he was going to talk to UMass, they gave him their blessing, with the understanding there would not be a job for him when he came back.

Villanova officials felt they had a strong hand since former Wildcat assistant and current Hofstra coach Jay Wright was available and talking to Rutgers, UMass, and Tennessee about their vacancies.

Feeling it needed to act quickly to have any chance of getting Wright, Villanova sped up the process to officially end the relationship.

Lappas's public demeanor has been a hot topic for years at Villanova, so much in fact that school officials hired an image consultant to work with Lappas a few years ago.

That is a vital point for UMass. Flint was ousted not so much for wins and losses, but because there were fewer people coming to the Mullins Center each year.

UMass officials feel it is critical to hire a coach who can not only win, but energize the community.

Even those closest to Lappas acknowledge people skills are his weakest area. Another criticism of Lappas is his teams get tired of his hands-on approach, a possible explanation for Villanova's annual March collapse.

McCaffery spoke with Marcum last night and was told a decision would come sometime today. But UMass and Rutgers aren't alone in their pursuit. La Salle is ready to offer McCaffery its job.

''If any Big East school [calls], I would certainly consider it,'' said McCaffery. ''I think Rutgers would be a great situation. State school, Big East, in a great recruiting area. And if someone called I would certainly listen.''

Villanova contends it was a resignation
AD Vince Nicastro says Steve Lappas submitted his letter of resignation Friday. The issue of why isn't mentioned.
By Joe Juliano, The Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer, 3/25/2001

Yesterday, Villanova tried to clear up the circumstances surrounding the departure of head basketball coach Steve Lappas, calling the move a resignation but not offering a reason on why he would quit with three years left on his current contract and no guarantee of another coaching position.

Speaking at a news conference at the Pavilion, athletic director Vince Nicastro said that several hours went by on Friday between the time Lappas first told him and Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, the university president, of his "intention to resign" and the drafting of a formal letter of resignation.

"We met [Friday] afternoon in Father Dobbin's office, and that's when Steve told us of his intent to resign," Nicastro said. "We had a long discussion, just talking about life and basketball and some other things. Then he took some time to go back, I think, to his family and some friends that he relies on for advice and counsel.

"[Friday] night, we all met, and he submitted his formal letter of resignation."

Lappas, 47, who led the Wildcats to 174 wins in nine seasons as head coach, was believed to be interviewing yesterday for the vacant head coaching job at Massachusetts. He did not attend the news conference and was unavailable for comment last night.

In a university statement announcing his resignation, Lappas said, "I am tremendously proud of our accomplishments at Villanova. This was a difficult decision for my family and me to make. We are thankful for our time here."

Nicastro said that although he had had several talks with Lappas since the Wildcats ended their season on March 14 with a first-round loss in the NIT, there was nothing that led him to believe that the coach was interested in leaving his position.

He did not give a specific reason yesterday why Lappas resigned.

"Any time you resign a position, it's a personal decision," Nicastro said. "We respect that. I don't want to speak for Steve in that situation.

"It was a surprise. Any time there's a resignation of this magnitude, I think it's a surprise. It's unsettling to everyone. Certainly it's been a tough couple of days for all of us. But it's Steve's decision, it's a personal decision and we respect it."

Nicastro also refuted some theories mentioned in published reports of Lappas' departure.

When asked if Lappas, whose team barely missed making the NCAA tournament field in each of the last two seasons, felt that he'd be fired if the team did not make next year's NCAAs, he said, "That didn't come from us. If he felt that way, that's how he felt."

When asked if Dobbin decided to fire Lappas after the coach mentioned his interest in the UMass job, Nicastro said, "That's not the case."

He said that Dobbin was aware of the disgruntled faction of fans and alumni who felt Lappas' teams underachieved, but that he was not influenced by the criticism.

"He is very cordial, very professional, he's a great counselor," Nicastro said of the president. "He tried to counsel a little bit [yesterday]. There were a lot of dynamics in the room, all of which were professionally handled. I think he gave Steve a chance to think about it, and make sure his decision was right."

Nicastro also said there would be no buyout of the last three years of Lappas' contract, which he signed last July, nor would the coach have to pay the university any money should he get a new job.

Nicastro said he and Dobbin were still formulating a plan to search for a new coach. But he did contact Hofstra yesterday morning, he said, for permission to speak with head coach Jay Wright, a Council Rock High graduate and former Villanova assistant who has led the Pride to back-to-back NCAA appearances.

Asked about his timetable for hiring a new coach, Nicastro said, "The sooner, the better."

"I think we're in a position where we feel like we're committed to a nationally prominent program," he said. "We're going to be able to attract some very high-caliber coaches. We want people who have the right stuff, obviously, in terms of X's and O's and recruiting and all the other tools you talk about in coaching.

"What's very important to us is to have someone who understands the Villanova philosophy and the Villanova values. We think that's probably the overriding factor."

Nicastro met with the players yesterday morning and said "They were a little unsettled" by what happened. He said he had not talked to anyone individually, and that included Michael Bradley, a second-team all-American who might skip his senior season to enter the NBA draft.

"I can't speak on behalf of Michael," he said. "He hasn't indicated to me which way he's going."

Lappas posted six 20-win seasons and led the Wildcats to seven postseason appearances, including four NCAAs, in his nine seasons. But his teams went 2-4 in the NCAA tournament.

He was believed to be a leading candidate at UMass, but the school also has interviewed head coaches Jim Baron of St. Bonaventure and Fran McCaffery of UNC-Greensboro. It reportedly has another interview scheduled with George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga.

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