Ohio State basketball coaches fired
Mar. 11, 1997
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Ohio State made sweeping changes in its mens' and womens' basketball programs Monday, firing coaches Randy Ayers and Nancy Darsch because they failed to finish in the top half of the Big Ten standings for the fourth year in a row.
Ayers and Darsch, both having enjoyed great success with their teams in the early 1990s, each had two years left on their contracts.
The mens' team has gone 10-17 the last two seasons, including 5-13 in the Big Ten this past season. The women finished 12-16 and were 3-13 in conference play.
Athletic director Andy Geiger said both coaches had been told before the season what was expected.
``It is my feeling that we did not meet the goals we set prior to the season, which were upper half of the conference goals,'' Geiger said at a news conference. ``If that worked out in a postseason tournament, that would obviously be something we would be very pleased about.
``There has been some improvement, particularly in the mens' program, but we simply didn't meet the goals and I think it's time for us to move on and move forward with an aggressive search and a new look for our basketball programs.''
Geiger said he will begin a nationwide search to fill both vacancies. He said his only criterion is that candidates have a history of being a part of successful programs, either as a head coach or as an assistant.
Adding to the pressure on both coaches was the construction of a $93 million arena set to open in the fall of 1998. Sales of seat licenses have lagged as both teams have suffered.
Ayers met with his team Monday afternoon following his dismissal. It was not clear if Darsch spoke with her players.
Ayers, who had a base salary of $110,000 a year, was 124-108 in eight years as coach. The firing came a day after the Buckeyes finished their season with an 86-81 loss in overtime to Michigan on Sunday.
``My family and I have been very fortunate for the opportunity to be a part of the Ohio State University family, and we wish the university nothing but the best,'' he said in a statement. ``I have grown very fond of the players I have had over the last 14 years, especially this current group. I think they will be a special group in years to come and I hope the university will continue to embrace them.''
Darsch, who earned a base salary of $90,000 in addition to other peripheral compensation, is the winningest womens' basketball coach at Ohio State, going 234-125 in 12 seasons. She took the Buckeyes to the NCAA tournament seven times.
Under Ayers, the Buckeyes won Big Ten titles in 1990-91 and 1991-92 and both times were seeded No. 1 in the NCAA tournament. Ayers was The Associated Press national coach of the year in 1991.
Darsch guided the Buckeyes to the national championship game in 1993, an 84-82 loss to Texas Tech that concluded a 28-4 season.
But for both programs there have been few high points since.
The mens' team has had four straight losing seasons, something that had never happened in the 98 years the school has had a college team.
Over those same four years, the womens' team never finished higher than sixth place in the 11-team Big Ten.
In 1992, Ohio State's men made it to the Southeast Regional final, losing to Michigan. Since then, almost all the news coming from the program has been bad.
The next year, the Buckeyes _ having lost star guard Jim Jackson to the NBA a year early _ went 15-13 and were beaten at home in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
In January 1993, the NCAA began investigating the recruitment of Damon Flint. Ohio State admitted to 17 violations. Flint ended up at Cincinnati, whose rise in national stature mirrored Ohio State's fall.
During the four losing seasons, there were continued problems off the court. Three players were charged with driving under the influence in the span of five weeks in 1994. Various assaults, misdemeanors and complaints led to the dismissal of prized recruits Greg Simpson, Gerald Eaker, Charles ``Killer'' Macon, Jami Bosley and Scott Gradney. Two others, Derek Anderson and Nate Wilbourne, transferred to escape the commotion.
Ohio State went 5-31 in Big Ten play in 1994-96, losing 23 times by at least nine points and had back-to-back 10th-place finishes.
At the same time, Darsch was having her problems.
She signed one of Ohio's most acclaimed high school players in Katie Smith. Smith helped the Buckeyes make it to the NCAA championship game as a freshman, but three disappointing years followed.
Despite luring Smith, Darsch was frequently criticized for not getting top players in Ohio. Among those who left the state were Ms. Basketball award winners Vonda Ward and Semeka Randall (both going to Tennessee) and Beth Ostendorf and Na'Sheema Hillmon (both to Vanderbilt).