Coverage from:
ESPN.com - 3/10 Lappas
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - 3/11 Lappas
The Springfield Republican - 3/11 NIT External link
The Boston Globe - 3/12 Lappas
The Springfield Republican - 3/13 Lappas External link
The Springfield Republican - 3/14 Lappas/NIT External link
The Boston Globe - 3/14 Lappas/NIT
The NY Post - 3/14 Lappas
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - 3/14 Lappas
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - 3/14 NIT

ESPN.com - 3/14 Lappas fired
Associated Press - 3/14 announcement made
UMass Athletics - 3/14 official statement
The Springfield Republican - 3/14 External link
The Springfield Republican - 3/14 column External link
The Boston Herald - 3/15
The Boston Globe - 3/15
The Springfield Republican - 3/15 External link
The Berkshire Eagle - 3/15
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - 3/15
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - 3/15 players' reaction
The Berkshire Eagle - 3/15
The Springfield Republican - 3/16 External link
The Boston Herald - 3/16
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - 3/16


Future in doubt after 16-12 finish
From ESPN.com news services, 3/10/2005

UMass athletic director John McCutcheon will make an announcement on coach Steve Lappas' job status on Monday, a school spokesperson told ESPN.com's Andy Katz on Thursday.

McCutcheon is expected to meet with Lappas over the weekend. Lappas has two seasons remaining on his contract and is reportedly guaranteed $371,000 if the Minutemen make the NCAA or NIT.

Speculation about Lappas' future in Amherst intensified after the Minutemen were eliminated by LaSalle 70-64 in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament on Wednesday.

"It hasn't been brought up until you brought it up," Lappas told the Boston Globe as he walked away from a postgame news conference. "This litany of questions, I haven't gotten them.

"Have you been standing behind me listening? Because they haven't come from anyone. That's my quote."

Rashaun Freeman had 19 points for Massachusetts, which forced overtime after trailing by 12 early in the second half. The Minutemen had won five games in overtime this season, one short of the NCAA record set by Wake Forest in 1983-1984.

The Minutemen were 16-12 after three straight losing seasons under Lappas. The university reportedly restructured his contract last year to allow it to buy out the coach for half his annual paycheck.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.


Lappas decision Monday
By Matt Vautour, Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/11/2005

The University of Massachusetts will have an announcement Monday about the future of men's basketball coach Steve Lappas. UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon has not made any public statements about Lappas since the Minutemen lost 70-64 in overtime Wednesday to La Salle in first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Cincinnati. Jason Yellin, the assistant athletic director for media relations, said UMass will make a statement Monday.

McCutcheon and Lappas are expected to meet this weekend to discuss the coach's status. The Minutemen finished the season 16-12, their best mark under Lappas during his four years in Amherst. His overall record with the Minutemen is 50-65.

Under an agreement worked out a year ago, if the Minutemen make either the NCAA Tournament or NIT Lappas would be guaranteed the approximately $366,000 value of the two remaining years on his contract. If UMass doesn't make the postseaon, the school can let Lappas go for about $93,000.

Lappas Thursday had no comment about his job status. He said he plans to have practice scheduled for Sunday with the hope that UMass earns a berth in the National Invitation Tournament. However, UMass is considered unlikely to get a bid.

While NIT officials have talked about the importance of the ratings percentage index in picking their 40-team field, Lappas said he is hopeful that the committee would carefully consider the mathematical formula after it was changed during the season.

The RPI, the NCAA's formula that ranks all Division I teams based on record and strength of schedule, was unexpectedly changed in December to credit teams more for playing and winning road games.

It created considerable difference in the rankings and vaulted several small-conference schools higher. Coaches around the nation have complained because they are playing schedules designed to be successful under the old system.

UMass is currently ranked No. 134 in the RPI. Under last year's formula, the Minutemen would have been No. 112, according to kenpom.com a web site that lists RPI by both methods.

UMass only scheduled two nonconference road games this season and might have scheduled more if the changes had been announced during the summer.

''We definitely got hurt,'' Lappas said. ''In the old one, we'd be about 22 spots higher. That's a big difference. The NCAA has said its going to look at both (the old and new formulas). There's a chance the NIT is going to look at both too. I wouldn't be surprised.''

Before Wednesday's loss, UMass would have been No. 99 using last year's rankings. However, falling to La Salle might have knocked the Minutemen out of consideration for the NIT even under the old system.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com.


UMass's Lappas on outs?
Postseason berth could determine fate
By Marty Dobrow, The Boston Globe Correspondent, 3/12/2005

AMHERST -- A dramatic but inconsistent basketball season at the University of Massachusetts appears to be over, and with it --quite possibly -- the four-year tenure of coach Steve Lappas.

With Wednesday's first-round loss to lowly La Salle in the Atlantic 10 tournament, UMass dropped to 16-12 on the season. More importantly, the Minutemen had their RPI power rating drop to 137th in the nation, as of Thursday. While all teams with at least a .500 record are eligible for National Invitation Tournament consideration, the low rating will almost certainly keep UMass out of postseason play for the fifth consecutive year. Last season, Purdue had the worst RPI of any NIT team at 107. NIT pairings will be announced tomorrow night.

If UMass does not get in, Lappas's restructured contract will allow the school to buy him out for half of his base salary, approximately $93,000. A postseason appearance would have automatically kicked in a bonus of two years worth of base pay at about $372,000.

UMass spokesman Jason Yellin confirmed yesterday that athletic director John McCutcheon will release a statement regarding Lappas's future Monday. McCutcheon and Lappas are expected to meet over the weekend.

Lappas came to UMass from Villanova in 2001 when the Minutemen decided to cut ties with coach James "Bruiser" Flint, now the coach at Drexel. After three straight losing seasons with increasingly poor records (13-16, 11-18, 10-19), Lappas agreed to the restructuring, essentially betting his UMass coaching career on the success of the 2004-05 team.

At the time of the restructuring, Lappas said, "I'm excited about the prospects of our future. Our goals are to return to the great tradition of winning we have at UMass."

McCutcheon said at the time, "While none of us, Steve included, are remotely content with the win-loss record of the team to date, I do feel we have begun to show signs of improvement for the future. This agreement allows that progress to continue while minimizing the financial exposure to the university. We have also established clear goals and expectations for evaluating the development of the program."

In some ways, the Minutemen did show improvement this season, posting their first winning mark in five years and their best record in seven seasons. They scored a dramatic upset over defending national champion Connecticut in December, and also knocked off then-nationally ranked George Washington on the road. They showed a propensity for making every win dramatic, with four in overtime.

Lappas often asserted that, "This team is good; they are going to be great."

But losses against mediocre teams (Fordham and Richmond) and several narrow escapes against bottom feeders (St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island (home and away), Duquesne, La Salle) left a lukewarm UMass fan base uncertain about the quality of the team. That uncertainty hit its nadir when UMass lost its overtime magic Wednesday, falling to La Salle, 70-64, putting the wraps on a season that was not quite good enough.


Lappas staying or going?
Announcement on fate to come today
By Mark Blaudschun, The Boston Globe Staff, 3/14/2005

While the college basketball world focused on who was going where in postseason play, University of Massachusetts men's coach Steve Lappas was focusing on a bigger picture -- whether he was staying or leaving.

Lappas's fate may have been sealed when the National Invitation Tournament passed on the Minutemen despite their 16-12 record, which in years past has been good enough for an Atlantic 10 team to receive a bid to the consolation tournament.

"That was surprising," conceded Lappas last night as he absorbed another disappointment in a season that has been a roller-coaster ride.

Lappas's standing at UMass pretty much hinged on the team making either the NIT or the NCAA Tournament. A postseason bid would have kicked in a bonus of two years worth of base pay (about $372,000); instead the school is able to buy out Lappas at half of his base salary (about $93,000). Lappas agreed to the restructuring, essentially betting his future on this season, after barely keeping his job after last season. Lappas would only say that something would be announced this morning. "We'll know more tomorrow," Lappas said as he made a polite exit from the phone. Lappas's record in four years at UMass (50-65) did not inspire confidence among UMass boosters or fans, who have stayed away from the Mullins Center in droves. Although the Minutemen showed improvement this season, including a win over nationally ranked Connecticut, they also suffered their third consecutive first-round loss in the A-10 tournament. It all paints a rather bleak outlook for Lappas's tenure at Amherst, which may well end today.


excerpt from...
Coaching carousel about to start
By Lenn Robbins, The New York Post, 3/14/2005

The craziest subplot during March Madness is the coaching carousel which could begin whirling even before the first NCAA Tournament game is played.

One of the first moves could take place in the East. Massachusetts coach Steve Lappas said before the season it was NCAA Tournament or bust for him. The Minutemen didn't get to the Big Dance, so don't be shocked by a Lappas resignation.

This could set off a power broker war between two Conference USA coaches who have no love lost between them. John Calipari at Memphis will push his assistant, Tony Barbee, for the job, while Rick Pitino at Louisville will back one of his proteges, Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez.

But if UMass athletic director John McCutcheon were willing to make a really shrewd move, he'd take a long, hard look at former Boston Celtics coach John Carroll. Carroll knows the East from his days as an assistant at Seton Hall, where he helped build the team that went to the 1989 championship game.

Carroll, who did a solid job with the Celtics when they were as dysfunctional a team as there was in the NBA, has great AAU contacts and is well known in the Massachusetts area.


Lappas likely out
Decision today on UMass coach
By Matt Vautour, Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/14/2005

Steve Lappas' best season at the University of Massachusetts wasn't enough to save his job.

Under the terms of his contract, the men's basketball coach was expected to lose his post today. An afternoon press conference is scheduled.

The school will begin a national search for his replacement immediately. Former UMass star player Tony Barbee, Manhattan College coach Bobby Gonzalez and University of Connecticut assistant coach Tom Moore are expected to be among the candidates. People at UMass familiar with the situation said the coach's fate was sealed Sunday night when the Minutemen were not selected to the National Invitation Tournament field.

Lappas' job was in jeopardy a year ago, following his third straight losing season, despite having three more seasons remaining on his contract. Athletic director John McCutcheon, who had been on the job for just over a month at the end of the 2003-2004 season, brokered an agreement that would allow Lappas to remain for this season with a restructured contract.

The terms stated that if the Minutemen made either the NCAA Tournament or the National Invitation Tournament, the remaining two years of Lappas' contract would be reinstated. If they failed to make postseason play, he could be let go for about $93,000, half of one year's salary.

Lappas will leave after his only winning season, one that included an upset win Dec. 9 over defending national champion Connecticut. But a collection of bad defeats, including Wednesday's 70-64 loss to La Salle in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, as well as dwindling game attendance and donations, appear to have hastened his demise.

Lappas came to UMass from Villanova University after the 2000-01 season. When former Athletic Director Bob Marcum announced the hire, he hailed the move as a coup for UMass, grabbing a coach from a Big East institution. He pointed to Lappas' six 20-win seasons and four NCAA Tournament berths while leading the Wildcats of Villanova.

But Lappas was unable to duplicate that success in Amherst.

He began his UMass career with four straight wins, including upsets over North Carolina State and Oregon, but the Minutemen went 9-16 the rest of the season to finish 13-16.

His victory totals fell each of the following two seasons (11-18, 10-19), before bouncing back this year.

Lappas' teams were hurt by player departures. Six players transferred, one was kicked off and another became academically ineligible.

If let go today, Lappas will end his UMass career with a 50-65 record, including a 25-39 record in Atlantic 10 play.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com.


Minutemen left out of postseason
By Matt Vautour, Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/14/2005

The University of Massachusetts men's basketball season is officially over and the Steve Lappas era in Amherst might be as well.

The Minutemen, who finished the year at 16-12, were not selected to participate in the National Invitation Tournament, which released its 40-team field last night.

Changes made to Lappas' contract last year would allow the Minutemen to cut ties with the coach for about $93,000 because UMass did not make the postseason. Jason Yellin, the assistant UMass athletic director for media relations, said the school would hold a press conference Monday afternoon on ''the future of the program.'' Athletic director John McCutcheon has declined comment on Lappas' future since the Minutemen fell to La Salle 70-64 in overtime in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament on Wednesday.

Lappas said Sunday he has not met with McCutcheon about his future and expects to meet with him at some point this week.

Lappas said he was disappointed that the Minutemen were left out of the NIT, but remains proud of his team's season.

''We're disappointed not making the NIT. We had some great wins,'' he said. ''I thought we improved by six games overall and five games in our league. I thought we were one of the most improved teams in any league anywhere. Our guys accomplished a lot this year with four sophomores starting. Between injuries and the suspension, it was not a smooth year, but it was a much improved year.''

The Minutemen had their most wins since 1999-2000 when they finished 17-16, but it is their fifth straight year without postseason play.

UMass was one of three eligible Atlantic 10 teams which were not invited to the NIT. The others are Xavier and Dayton which had postseason streaks of eight and five years, respectively, snapped.

George Washington, which won the conference tourney, is the league's lone representative to the NCAA Tournament, while Saint Joseph's and Temple were invited to the NIT.

Charlotte, which joins the A-10 next season, is also in the NCAA field.

With the season over, so are the careers of Anthony Anderson, Chris Chadwick and walk-on Tim Collins.

Anderson, who missed the Atlantic 10 Tournament with a back injury after a three-game suspension earlier in the season, leaves UMass ranked in the top 20 in several career categories including scoring (No. 19 with 1,211 points) assists (No. 7, 367) and steals (No. 3, 150).

The Minutemen return nine scholarship players for the 2005-06 season including starters Rashaun Freeman, Maurice Maxwell, Stephane Lasme and Artie Bowers.

Included in those nine are Dante Milligan and Olivier Lamoureux. Milligan, a sophomore transfer from Pittsburgh, will be eligible after the first semester next season. UMass is hoping to get a medical redshirt for Lamoureux, a freshman big man, who appeared in just one game this year.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com.


UMass 16-12 after 3 losing seasons under Lappas
From ESPN.com news services, 3/14/2005

The University of Massachusetts has fired Steve Lappas as its men's basketball coach, ESPN.com's Andy Katz reports.

A noon news conference is scheduled Monday in Amherst, Mass.

If the Minutemen -- who were left out of the NCAA and NIT tournaments -- had received a postseason bid, Lappas would have been owed $371,000, according to a restructuring of his contract last spring.

The Minutemen went 16-12 after three straight losing seasons under Lappas.

Speculation about Lappas' future in Amherst intensified after a 70-64 first-round loss to LaSalle eliminated the Minutemen from the Atlantic 10 tournament on Wednesday.

UMass athletic director John McCutcheon told Katz last Thursday that he was to meet with Lappas over the weekend about the coach's future. Lappas had two seasons remaining on his contract, but the deal was reportedly restructured last year to allow the university to buy out the coach for half his annual salary.

The Minutemen had won five games in overtime this season, one short of the NCAA record set by Wake Forest in 1983-84.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.


UMass fires Lappas as men's basketball coach
By Adam Gorlick, The Associated Press Writer, 3/14/2005

AMHERST, Mass. --Steve Lappas, hired in 2001 to turn around the faltering Massachusetts basketball program, was fired Monday after four seasons in which the Minutemen compiled a 50-65 record.

"This isn't a real positive day, but one we felt was necessary," Athletic Director John McCutcheon said in announcing the decision.

The Minutemen improved to 16-12 this season after three straight losing seasons under Lappas. But UMass was eliminated in overtime by LaSalle during the first-round of the Atlantic 10 tournament last week and failed to get an NIT bid.

With pressure mounting, UMass restructured Lappas' contract last year to add incentives based on attendance and the team's record.

A postseason bid would have given Lappas a bonus amounting to two years of his $185,000 annual base pay. But the school also included a clause allowing it to buy him out for half his annual salary.

Lappas came to Massachusetts after nine years at Villanova, during which the Wildcats went to the NCAA tournament four times and the NIT three times. But his teams never made it beyond the second round of the NCAA tournament and he quit in 2001 after Villanova lost in the first round of the NIT.

Over a 17-year Division I coaching career that began at Manhattan in 1988, Lappas' teams have a combined 280-237 record.

He had declined to speculate on his future following his team's early departure from the league tourney. However, Lappas had made clear he felt that the young team with four sophomore starters had improved significantly over the season.

Home attendance rose slightly to an average of 3,869 from last season's average of 3,192. But the only time this season that the team came close to filling the 9,493-seat Mullins Center was when the Minutemen stunned defending NCAA champion Connecticut, 61-59.

The arena was sold out for every game during Massachusetts' winning seasons from 1992 through 1997.


UMass Announces Lappas' Contract Will Not Be Extended
Coach went 50-65 in four years at UMass
From UMass Athletics, 3/14/2005

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts Director of Athletics John McCutcheon announced Monday afternoon that the contract of men's basketball head coach Steve Lappas will not be extended as per the agreement reached last year. A national search for a new coach has begun immediately.

Photo
McCutcheon announces the decision not to retain Steve Lappas.
"Earlier today, I informed Steve Lappas that his contract will not be extended for our agreement that we negotiated last year as head basketball coach," said McCutcheon. "This was an action that we took after very careful consideration on my recommendation to the Chancellor and with his support. When we looked at making this determination, we looked at several areas of the program. We looked at the full body of work, that being from the last four years and as well as this year. We looked at the current state of the program and also what we thought might be the prospects for the future. When evaluating all of those various criteria, we felt that a change was in order -- in the best interest of the basketball program and the university in the long run.

"We understand that when you make a change of this nature, of course it is an unsettling situation. There are risks involved with it: concerns of the players, concerns of the fans that still after evaluating all of the various components we felt that this was in the best long-term interest of the program. "

Lappas completed his fourth year at UMass in 2004-05 as the Minutemen posted their best record in his four seasons with a 16-12 mark. Overall, Lappas had a 50-65 record at UMass. He previously served as the head coach at Manhattan (1988-92) and Villanova (1992-2001).

Lappas had no comment on the decision, on Monday.

McCutcheon went on to thank Lappas and his staff for their four years of service and dedication.

"We also want to thank Steve Lappas and his staff," said McCutcheon. "The efforts they put in on behalf of the university over the past four years. This was something done out of concern for our program, but it was not without the understanding of the hard work that Steve and his staff put in. We thank them for their efforts. It's just that we didn't get to a level of competitiveness that we felt we needed to be at. We wish them well."


UMass dumps Lappas -- Coach out after disappointing season
By Rich Thompson, The Boston Herald, 3/15/2005

AMHERST --Steve Lappas coached the 2004-05 season with the understanding that his job at UMass was on the line.

The end of the line came yesterday morning.

UMass first-year athletic director John McCutcheon cited the long-term interests of the program for his decision to fire Lappas after four seasons and a 50-65 record.

``I informed Steve Lappas that his contract would not be extended per our agreement that we negotiated last year as head basketball coach,'' McCutcheon said at yesterday's press conference at the Mullins Center. ``When we looked at making this determination, we looked at several areas of the program. We looked at a phrase that's being used a lot: `The full body of work,' that being the last (three) years and this year.

``We looked at the current state of the program and the prospects for the future. We evaluated all those various criteria and we felt a change was in order for the best interests of the program.''

Lappas was brought to Amherst in 2001 by former AD Bob Marcum after eight seasons at Villanova. Lappas had his contract extended through 2007 by AD Ian McCaw, but renegotiated the terms of his pact with McCutcheon before this season.

The school added incentives based on attendance and the team's record but also included a clause allowing it to buy Lappas out for half his annual salary.

After three losing seasons and declining attendance figures, Lappas essentially rolled the dice that he would lead UMass to the upper tier of the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Lappas had reason to feel confident. The Minutemen were stacked with experienced young talent like sophomores Rashaun Freeman, Stephane Lasme, Artie Bowers and Maurice Maxwell, and the A-10 was an open field.

UMass, however, finished 16-12 and was eliminated from the Atlantic 10 tournament in overtime by La Salle in the opening round. The case was closed when the Minutemen were denied an NIT berth.

``Clearly where we look where we want to be, postseason competition and postseason participation is a key,'' McCutcheon said. ``We think we should compete at the top end of the Atlantic 10 Conference just about every year.

``In terms of fan support, we have a big building and a lot of seats to fill. It's important that we do get support from fans. What's an acceptable number? I can't tell you that today, but we know where it's been during some very good times for the program.''

McCutcheon said a search committee was formed that would actively recruit candidates with head coaching experience or top assistants. The process already is underway, but McCutcheon refused to divulge a short list of candidates or describe the type of coach he's looking for. McCutcheon also said the school has put together an attractive financial package as an incentive.

``Our search for a replacement has already begun, and we will be active over the next two weeks, but I don't have a time frame in mind,'' McCutcheon said. ``The important thing is we find the right person for the position.''

After his morning meeting with Lappas, McCutcheon met with the team to explain the move.

``We were left wondering and questioning yourself if you gave it everything you had,'' said forward Jeff Viggiano, the only returning senior.

``Our guys are excited just to play basketball. They bought into coach Lappas' system, and I'm sure they'll buy into whoever they bring in to take over.''


UMass dumps Lappas
Postseason drought seen as his downfall
By Mark Blaudschun, The Boston Globe Staff, 3/15/2005

The question now is, where does the University of Massachusetts look to find someone to lead its men's basketball program? Yesterday, UMass fired Steve Lappas after four seasons and no postseason appearances.

"This isn't a real positive day, but one we felt was necessary," said UMass athletic director John McCutcheon at a noon press conference. "This was an action that we took after very careful consideration on my recommendation to the chancellor and with his support.

"When we looked at making this determination, we looked at several areas of the program. We looked at the full body of work, that being from the last four years and as well as this year. We looked at the current state of the program and also what we thought might be the prospects for the future. When evaluating all of those various criteria, we felt that a change was in order -- in the best interest of the basketball program and the university in the long run."

Lappas, whose overall record in Amherst was 50-65, had three losing seasons before the Minutemen made a turnaround this year, compiling a 16-12 record. But that impressed neither the NCAA selection committee, which rounded up 34 at-large teams Sunday, nor the NIT committee, which invited 40 teams to its event.

When Lappas restructured his contract last spring, it was understood that his job security was contingent on the Minutemen being selected for some kind of postseason play. When the Minutemen were not chosen Sunday, McCutcheon's plan of action became clear. Now he will search for a new leader, hoping to get the Minutemen even remotely close to where they were 10 years ago, when John Calipari guided them to the Final Four.

Calipari, now coaching at Memphis, said yesterday he was not sure where UMass would look, but he put in a word for one of his assistant coaches, Tony Barbee, who played for Calipari at UMass.

"I have no idea what they are going to do," said Calipari, who is preparing his team for an NIT matchup against Northeastern. "But Tony certainly is ready and knows what the place is about."

Calipari, more than most, knows that UMass basketball is about more than wins and losses. It's about selling a program, something Lappas didn't do well enough in the minds of many in Amherst.

McCutcheon acknowledged there are no guarantees of immediate success.

"We understand that when you make a change of this nature, of course it's an unsettling situation," he said. "There are risks involved with it, concerns of the players, concerns of the fans that still, after evaluating all of the various components, we felt this was in the best long-term interest of the program."

The issue UMass must address internally is what type of coach it wants to redirect the program.

Does it want a rising assistant from a high-profile program such as Memphis, or Connecticut, where Tom Moore is ready to take the next step after serving an apprenticeship under Jim Calhoun, or Boston College, where Billy Coen is in a similar position on Al Skinner's staff?

Or is head coaching experience a prerequisite? In that case, someone such as Ohio University coach Tim O'Shea could jump into the picture. O'Shea, who is preparing his team for a first-round NCAA game against Florida, has New England roots; he played at BC and was an assistant on Skinner's staff before taking his first head coaching job at Ohio three years ago.

Other possibilities include BU head coach Dennis Wolf, former Celtics assistant (and interim head coach) John Carroll, and Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez. Carroll also has head coaching experience in the Atlantic 10 at Duquesne and has expressed a desire to get back into the mainstream. Gonzalez, who was last season's hot coach du jour after earning an NCAA bid, has dropped a notch this season as Manhattan failed to make the tournament.

Lappas, who declined to comment yesterday, will address the media today at the Mullins Center.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


UMass begins search for basketball coach
By Howard Herman, The Berkshire Eagle Staff, 3/15/2005

AMHERST -- The Steve Lappas Era is over at the University of Massachusetts.

Lappas, who had a 50-65 record in four years at the helm, was fired yesterday. The announcement was made by athletic director John McCutcheon in a mid-day news conference at the Mullins Center. The search for a replacement is now under way.

"We've looked at, with a phrase that's been used a lot over the past couple of days, the full body of work -- that being from the last four years as well as this year," said McCutcheon. "We looked at the current state of the program and also what we thought might be the prospects for the future.

"When evaluating all those various criteria, we felt a change was in order."

The Minutemen were 16-12 this year, and did not get a bid to the National Invitation Tournament. In fact, UMass has not been to the post-season since losing to Siena in the 2000 NIT. The Minutemen have not played in the post-season in six of the last seven seasons.

The now former UMass coach was not available for comment. But Athletics Department spokesman Jason Yellin said Lappas asked for, and received, permission to hold a news conference this morning in the Mullins Center.

The UMass athletic director was asked point blank if the Minutemen had made the NIT, would it have helped Lappas keep his job.

"If everything was as it is now, and the committee had made a determination to take us in, even with our RPI, it probably would not have affected the decision," he said.

McCutcheon said he will appoint an advisory committee today to help sort through candidates. Among the names that have been mentioned in the past are Manhattan College head coach Bobby Gonzalez, University of Memphis assistants Tony Barbee and Derek Kellogg -- former UMass players under John Calipari, Connecticut assistant coach Tom Moore, or Northeastern head coach Ron Everhart.

"I think head coaching experience does carry some weight. That does not exclude some individuals who may not have head coaching experience, but are established as top assistant coaches," said McCutcheon.

Lappas arrived here after nine years as Villanova's head coach. Lappas resigned at Villanova under pressure, and was quickly hired by former UMass athletic director Bob Marcum. Marcum had negotiated a contract extension that was put into effect by Marcum's replacement Ian McCaw, now the athletic director at Baylor.

But prior to this season, McCutcheon restructured Lappas' contract to add incentives based on attendance and the team's record. A postseason bid would have given Lappas a bonus amounting to two years of his $185,000 annual base pay. But the school also included a clause allowing it to buy him out for half his annual salary.

Lappas took over after UMass fired Bruiser Flint following a 2000-01 season where the Minutemen went 15-15. Lappas went 13-16 in his first year, with 11-19 and 10-19 seasons leading into this year's 16-12 campaign.

The final year of the Lappas era was a real roller-coaster ride. It included a shocking upset of nationally ranked Connecticut, and a win at A-10 post-season champion George Washington. The season also included two bad home losses, to Northeastern and Richmond. The Minutemen ended their season losing to a bad LaSalle team in overtime at the A-10 Tournament.

"This was something done out of concern for our program, but it was not without understanding the hard work Steve and his staff put in," said McCutcheon. "We thank them for their efforts. It's just that we didn't get to a level of competitiveness that we needed to be at."

McCutcheon said he discussed the matter with Chancellor John Lombardi, who gave his approval, and the athletic director told the coach yesterday morning. Then he told the players.

"We just asked them to take a step back, give it a little bit of time to evaluate where things are, and to not [make decisions] through emotion but through a careful evaluation of what's going on," said McCutcheon.

Most of the UMass players had departed campus for spring break after learning of the change.

"It's kind of a shock for us all right now," said UMass forward Jeff Viggiano, who was still on campus.

"You start questioning yourself, and if you gave it everything you had just that last little push that would have gotten us into the NIT tournament," he continued. "Then, we wouldn't be sitting here having this conversation today."

Over a 17-year Division 1 coaching career that began at Manhattan in 1988, Lappas' teams have a combined 280-237 record.


UMass seeks new men's hoop coach, Lappas dismissed after four seasons
By Matt Vautour, Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/15/2005

University of Massachusetts athletic director John McCutcheon wants a men's basketball program that regularly competes for the Atlantic 10 title and postseason bids and he didn't see Steve Lappas leading the Minutemen to that level.

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McCutcheon speaks to the media.
McCutcheon Monday officially cut ties with the coach, informing him of the decision in the morning and announcing his departure during an afternoon press conference. UMass has begun a national search for a replacement. ''We looked at the current state of the program and what we thought might be the prospects for the future,'' McCutcheon said. ''When we evaluated all those criteria, we thought a change was in order and in the best interest of our basketball program and the university in the long run.''

Lappas went 50-65 in four seasons at UMass after leaving Villanova and the Big East where he had compiled a 174-110 record over nine years. Lappas had just one winning season at UMass - the one the Minutemen completed last week at 16-12.

McCutcheon and Lappas restructured his contract last summer, tying the coach's future to the Minutemen making the postseason. When UMass was left out of both the NCAA and NIT tournaments this year, the Minutemen dismissed Lappas at a cost of $93,000.

''Postseason competition is a key component for us. We think we should be able to compete at the top end of the Atlantic 10 conference just about every year,'' McCutcheon said. ''Will we make the NCAA Tournament every year? Probably not. That wouldn't be a realistic goal for any program, but we think we should be able to compete at the highest end of the A-10 and be in position for postseason play on a fairly regular basis.''

McCutcheon said that even if the NIT committee had selected the Minutemen, Lappas would not likely have stayed.

''If everything was as it is now and their committee had made a determination to take us in even with where our RPI is, it probably would not have affected the decision,'' he said.

Lappas, 50, was not at the press conference and declined all comment about his removal. He scheduled his own press conference for this morning.

In 17 years as a college coach (including the first four at Manhattan), Lappas compiled a record of 280-237.

McCutcheon said he does not have a deadline for naming a new coach.

''Our search for a replacement has already begun. We'll be active over the next few weeks,'' he said. ''I don't have a timetable at this time. It could take a week. It could take four weeks. The important things is that we get the right person.''

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com.


Players shaken, expect to remain
By Matt Vautour, Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/15/2005

University of Massachusetts junior forward Jeff Viggiano knew it was possible but he still couldn't quite believe that coach Steve Lappas was gone. Lappas was let go Monday after four years of coaching the Minutemen without taking them to the postseason.

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Jeff Viggiano comments about the decision not to retain Lappas.
''Its kind of a shock for us. We'll see what happens from here,'' Viggiano said Monday. ''We knew the chances (of him staying) weren't very good if we didn't get into the NIT or NCAA. We thought we had a chance to get into the NIT. He did stuff to get the program going in the right direction. It was just a tough situation. As much as people don't want to believe it, it's a business.''

Freshman big man Jeff ''Big Deli'' Salovski agreed.

''It's real tough because we've gotten so close with the coaching staff. But you just have to realize that its a business,'' Salovski said. ''The administration thought that a change needed to be made. We have to go on and try to do better next season.''

Athletic director John McCutcheon met with the players Monday after informing Lappas of his decision. Viggiano said the players hadn't had a chance to speak with Lappas yet.

''We met with the assistants,'' said Viggiano, who was the lone Minuteman to stay in the area as his teammates scattered for spring break. ''Coach was pretty upset about the whole situation. I guess we'll hear from him in a few days when the dust settles.''

The Minutemen had no recruits signed to letters of intent. Craig Austrie, a guard from Connecticut had given UMass a verbal commitment, but chose not to sign the formal letter because of the uncertainty surrounding Lappas.

His father, Vincent Austrie, said he had just learned of Lappas' dismissal Monday evening and was not ready to comment.

With no coach for the time being, Viggiano, a senior and likely captain next year, has assumed some of the leadership.

''I have to keep everybody together and try to make sure everybody is doing what they need to do,'' he said. ''We really have to come together as a team, work out hard and stay together.''

Sophomore Maurice Maxwell said the players are leaning on each other.

''Honestly I'm disappointed,'' Maxwell said. ''It's not a fun process. Its got me shaken a little I guess. We have the support of the program, but there's nobody we can really talk to except the other players on the team.''

Maxwell said he hopes the players would be involved in the search for Lappas' successor. He emphasized that the new coach would not need to overhaul the whole program to be successful.

''I just hope they bring in somebody that wants me and my teammates to be a part of what's going on,'' Maxwell said. ''I hope they're not going to come in and rebuild the program from scratch. I'm not looking to transfer just because there's a change. I'm not looking to jump ship.''

Viggiano said he expects most of the players will stay.

''I don't think we have to worry about that,'' Viggiano said. ''The guys on this team are very close on and off the court. As long as we can work things out everything will be fine and everyone will hopefully stay put.''

McCutcheon praised the players' handling of the situation.

''I explained what led to the decision and what the process would be. I advised them if they needed to come and visit with the administrative staff, they had the opportunity to do that to evaluate their situation,'' McCutcheon said. ''We asked them to take a step back. Give it a little bit of time to evaluate where things are and react not through emotion, but through careful evaluation. Wait to see who the replacement is and how they fit in. I think they reacted with maturity and very positively.''

Salovski said he hopes the search moves quickly.

''In a couple weeks we're going to have to start spring workouts,'' Salovski said. ''The sooner that is, the better it is for the team.''

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com.


Lappas out, not down: Sees bright UMass future
By Rich Thompson, The Boston Herald, 3/15/2005

AMHERST --Steve Lappas is wildly optimistic about the future of the UMass men's basketball team he no longer controls.

That was the central theme of Lappas' farewell presentation yesterday morning at the Mullins Center. Lappas spelled out several reasons why the UMass program is in better shape now than when he inherited it from Bruiser Flint four years ago.

The most obvious are the Minutemen's four starting sophomores - Rashaun Freeman, Maurice Maxwell, Stephane Lasme and Artie Bowers - who, in Lappas' opinion, will comprise the nucleus of an NCAA tournament team.

``I can honestly sit here and tell you that UMass basketball is back and that this year we turned the corner,'' said Lappas, who was fired Monday after compiling a 50-65 record with the Minutemen. ``I can sit here and tell you unequivocally that this will be an outstanding basketball team next year.

``Next year will only be better. That's why this is a difficult day for me and my family and my staff to know we won't be here to see the fruits of our labor. I leave here confident in knowing that this program is in better shape than when I arrived.

``You'll have to take my word for this now, but you will see it on the floor here at the Mullins Center.''

UMass athletic director John McCutcheon announced yesterday the formation of a consultative committee to assist in the hiring of a new coach. The 10-member committee will evaluate prospects and provide commentary about the candidates to McCutcheon, who will then make a final recommendation to UMass chancellor Dr. John Lombardi.

UMass finished with its first winning record (16-12) on Lappas' watch, but a first-round exit from the Atlantic 10 tournament and the Minutemen's failure to land an NIT berth caused the axe to fall on the 17-year coaching veteran.

``His mind was made up,'' Lappas said of McCutcheon. ``There was no stating of any case, it was pretty easy to tell.''

Injuries to key personnel combined with unexpected defections, failures in the classroom and a few rotten apples caused Lappas' timetable to fall a year short of fruition. Lappas had seven recruited players and one walk-on who either transferred, failed to meet classroom obligations or got tossed for violations of team rules.

Lappas said his determination to lead by one set of rules and an insistence on a 100-percent graduation rate caused the delay in his team's maturation process.

``I've always insisted on one thing and that is that everybody follows the rules and that there would be no exceptions in that regard,'' Lappas said. ``Because of that philosophy, it was necessary to release certain players that came in.''

UMass went 34-53 in Lappas' first three seasons, but he believes the Minutemen developed a winning attitude this season.

``I think they are going to be an NCAA tournament team next year,'' he said, ``and no one will be rooting for them more than Steve Lappas and his family and his staff.''


The Lappas Era Lapses At UMass
UConn's Moore Among Candidates
By Matt Eagan, The Hartford Courant Staff Writer, 3/15/2005

As expected, UMass fired coach Steve Lappas Monday and will begin an immediate search for a replacement.

UConn assistant coach Tom Moore is among those being considered.

Also believed to be on the list are Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez, Ohio coach Tim O'Shea and Memphis assistant Tony Barbee, a former UMass player.

Other names have been mentioned in published reports, including Boston University coach Dennis Wolff and Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard, but neither of those names could be confirmed.

Lappas, 50-65 in four seasons at UMass, agreed to restructure his contract at the end of last season, creating a clause that allowed the university to buy him out for half his $185,000 annual salary.

The contract also contained incentive bonuses that would be activated if the Minutemen qualified for postseason play. Their hopes of making the NCAA Tournament ended with a loss to La Salle in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals.

The NIT passed on giving UMass a bid.

Still, there was progress. After three straight losing seasons, the Minutemen improved to 16-12 despite a lineup that included four sophomore starters.

"We looked at the full body of work, that being from the last four years and as well as this year," UMass athletic director John McCutcheon said. "We looked at the current state of the program and also what we thought might be the prospects for the future. When evaluating all of those various criteria, we felt that a change was in order."

Each of the known candidates has attributes.

Barbee was a popular player in an era when the Mullins Center was sold out for every game.

Gonzalez spun a Cinderella story at Manhattan last season, leading the Jaspers to a 25-6 record and a first-round upset of Florida in the NCAA Tournament. The Jaspers were 15-14 this season.

O'Shea has coached Ohio into the NCAA Tournament this season.

Moore is in his 11th season at UConn and has won respect for his organizational and recruiting skills, as well as his ability to gameplan and work with guards.

He was instrumental in the recruitment of such players as Rashad Anderson and Rudy Gay.


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