BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — After 14 seasons, coach Reggie Witherspoon has run out of opportunities to lead the University at Buffalo men's basketball team to an NCAA tournament berth.
Witherspoon was abruptly fired on Friday, a day after the Bulls closed a 14-20 season with a 70-68 loss to Kent State in the quarterfinal of the Mid-American Conference tournament at Cleveland.
The move was regarded as a slight surprise, because Witherspoon had three years remaining on his contract. He was also the longtime face of the program and credited for successfully guiding the Bulls to respectability during their early days in the MAC.
"After much consideration, we determined that a change in leadership for our men's basketball program is necessary," first-year athletic director Danny White said, in a statement released by the school. "This was a very difficult decision because I understand the impact Coach Witherspoon made to our university and community. To be sure, our program is much stronger than when Reggie and his staff took over."
Witherspoon enjoyed seven winning seasons — including four with 20 or more wins. He finished with a 198-228 record to rank tied for second with Arthur Powell (198-190) on the school list of career victories. He also led the Bulls to four postseason berths: the NIT in 2005 and College Basketball Invitational in 2009, '11 and '12.
The closest the Bulls came to winning the MAC title — and the automatic NCAA tournament berth that came with it — was during their 23-10 season in 2004-05. Buffalo reached the conference tournament final before losing 80-79 in overtime to Ohio.
News of Witherspoon's firing reverberated at the MAC tournament in Cleveland.
"Completely shocked," Akron coach Keith Dambrot said.
Two weeks ago, the Bulls beat Akron 81-67 to end the Zips' 19-game winning streak, which had been the nation's longest at the time.
"If anybody could have done a better job at Buffalo, more power to them," Dambrot said. "Not only is he a quality basketball coach, but he's one of the most high-character people I've ever been around."
Dambrot said it was unfair to judge Witherspoon on Buffalo's inability to earn an NCAA berth.
"It sends a terrible message," Dambrot said. "Everybody sits there and preaches about academics and integrity, and then a guy like that gets fired."
Witherspoon arrived at Buffalo during the program's most tumultuous period. He was hired as an interim coach to replace Tim Cohane, who had resigned five games into the 1999-2000 season after the NCAA was notified of potential recruiting violations.
Buffalo was eventually disciplined by the NCAA by being placed on two years probation in 2001.
After going a combined 22-85 in their first five years under Witherspoon, the Bulls went 17-12 in 2003-04. Before this season, Buffalo enjoyed four-straight winning records in going a combined 79-49.
Witherspoon was the MAC's coach of the year in 2004.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.