ORONO, Maine — There was another departure from the University of Maine men’s basketball program on Monday.
This time, on the heels of a dismal 6-23 season and in the wake of three high-profile players requesting a transfer in the last three weeks, it was head coach Ted Woodward.
UMaine President Paul Ferguson announced Monday that the university will buy out Woodward’s contract, ending his tenure as coach, effective immediately.
Woodward had served as the Black Bears head coach for the last 10 seasons after he spent eight years as an assistant coach with the program under John Giannini.
UMaine athletics director Karlton Creech, who began his job on Feb. 10, said he realized men’s basketball was an area he needed to address.
“I didn’t have any plans to make any major decisions in my first three months on the job,” Creech said, “but as the basketball season came to an end and we started to get into late March, I thought that I owed it to the university and to our department to start taking a closer look at men’s basketball.”
Creech said he reached his decision last week and told Ferguson a change should be made.
“After taking a comprehensive look at the program, I made the decision to recommend to the president that we move in another direction with the head coaching position,” Creech said.
UMaine released a statement from Woodward on the UMaine men’s basketball Twitter account, Black Bears MBB (@BlackBearMBB). Woodward said via a text message that he would not comment further.
“I am extremely proud of the Black Bear basketball program,” Woodward said. “I have put all of my energy, heart and soul into it during my entire career at Maine.”
Woodward broke the news to his staff and players on Monday afternoon.
“This is a tremendous core of young players that will do special things at Maine. It has been an honor to coach them all,” Woodward said. “I would like to thank our support staff, administration, colleagues and fans for supporting us and helping our S-A [student-athletes] every step of the way.”
Creech said the requests for transfer by Dimitry Akanda-Coronel, Shaun Lawton and Xavier Pollard during the last three weeks was only one of the dynamics leading to his recommendation.
“I do believe the guys, they each had their individual reasons for wanting to leave, and I doubt our decision today is going to change anything in their future,” Creech said.
Woodward had two years remaining on his most recent contract extension, which he signed in December 2011. He will be paid a 13-month buyout of approximately $113,800 related to one year’s salary. According to his contract, that is to be paid in monthly installments.
UMaine will use only privately raised funds from the President’s Discretionary Account to meet that obligation. No funds will be reallocated from the university budget committed to academic programs, or faculty, student or operational needs.
The university used the same discretionary account to buy out the contract of former men’s ice hockey coach Tim Whitehead last year ($190,000) and that of former women’s basketball coach Cindy Blodgett in 2011 ($109,772).
“Ted’s been here a long time and is a great guy and has served the university loyally,” Creech said. “It was a very difficult decision, mainly because Ted’s such a class act.”
Creech said a formal national search for Woodward’s replacement, one that will look across all levels of basketball, will begin immediately. UMaine is looking for “someone that’s coming in with a lot of energy, recruiting ties in high-profile areas — maybe in the northeast would be a plus — somebody that can be positively engaged with the community,” he said.
Woodward recently finished his 10th season as head coach of the Black Bears, compiling a record of 117-178 (.397 winning percentage) with the program. UMaine suffered nine consecutive first-round or quarterfinal losses in the America East tournament under Woodward.
UMaine has never won a conference championship or advanced to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship tournament.
“I am proud of the many things we accomplished both on and off the court, along with the many things that these men have become upon their graduation from the program,” Woodward said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t win enough to achieve some of our goals. There are certainly some significant challenges and adversity we face, yet an abundance of rewards.”
UMaine men’s basketball players were not made available for comment on Monday, but junior guard Zarko Valjarevic tweeted, “Thanks coach Woodward for everything that he did for this program. I wish him the best of luck in the future!”
Former UMaine AD Steve Abbott negotiated Woodward’s last contract extension after the men’s basketball team enjoyed two straight strong seasons.
The Black Bears went 19-11 (11-5 in league play) in 2009-2010 and had a 15-15 mark (9-7 AE) in 2010-2011. Those had marked the program’s first back-to-back winning seasons in conference action since 1999-2001.
UMaine finished in third place in the America East standings both years — the first such accomplishment in 20 years.
Creech said associate head coach Doug Leichner and assistant coaches Jon Sheets and Deshon Gaither remain on the staff and that their future at UMaine will be determined by the new head coach.
Creech said they will share coaching duties in the meantime and that won’t appoint an interim head coach unless he feels one is needed.
Woodward came to the University of Maine in 1996 as the top assistant and recruiting coordinator for Giannini. He also served as an assistant coach at Central Connecticut State University and Harvard, after beginning his career as a graduate assistant at the University of Connecticut under Jim Calhoun.
Woodward also coached the now-defunct UMaine golf team from 1997 to 2001.