Editorial: Premature firing of UMass men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg 

  • University of Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg shouts instructions during his team's loss to Richmond on March 1 at the Mullins Center. Kellogg was fired Thursday. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 3/10/2017 9:06:43 PM

The firing of University of Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg on Thursday was a predictable response to a disappointing season, particularly in Atlantic 10 conference play.

It was also premature. Kellogg deserved at least one more season of coaching the young Minutemen he recruited, who showed flashes of promise this year but had trouble winning close games.

In announcing the firing, UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said, “Decisions like this are always difficult, but after a thorough review of our men’s basketball program, I believe that a leadership change is needed to realize a higher level of competitive success expected at the University of Massachusetts.”

Kellogg compiled an overall record of 155-137 in his nine seasons as coach. He led the Minutemen to two straight NIT post-season tournaments, reaching the final four in 2012, and their only NCAA Tournament appearance during the last two decades in 2014. UMass finished 24-9 that season, but slipped below .500 the past two years.

The Minutemen performed well in its nonconference schedule this season, with a 10-3 record, but had trouble in the A-10 with a 12th-place finish at 4-14. UMass won its first A-10 tournament game Wednesday, but lost to St. Bonaventure 73-60 on Thursday, after which Kellogg’s firing was announced.

Growing pains were inevitable on a team which had no seniors to provide leadership and included five freshmen. While the losses in close games were frustrating, there also were positive signs to warrant optimism for the future, especially with the potential return of the entire roster, a rarity in Division I college basketball.

Now, it is up to another coach to return the Minutemen to a more competitive level of play in the Atlantic 10, with the possible NIT or NCAA tournament bids that would bring.

But the firing of Kellogg, 43, a Springfield native who played for the Minutemen from 1991-95 during their glory years, creates new challenges. There is no guarantee that new coach will inherit all the current and future players recruited by Kellogg. Some of those younger players likely will be attractive to other schools that may convince them to cut ties with UMass.

There is also a financial implication. Kellogg’s contract includes a 50 percent buyout of the two years that remain, which means that UMass owes him $1.16 million.

Bamford said Friday the next coach will likely be offered a five-year contract, but with a lower base salary in the range of $800,000 to $900,000, with additional pay tied to performance. “We’ll have some bonus structure in there. I want to create something where the next person has the ability to make money on success,” Bamford said. “We can put some retention bonuses in there to get the value of the contract up.”

Bamford said he hopes to have a new coach hired by the end of March. That will complete a trio of coaching hires for high-profile sports by Bamford, who has been athletic director for two years. Last year he fired the ice hockey and women’s basketball coaches.

Kellogg to some extent is the victim of an abysmal period for UMass athletics. The hockey team completed its season with 17 straight losses, compiled an overall record of 5-29-2 and finished last in Hockey East. The women’s basketball team was 9-21, finished next-to-last in the Atlantic 10 and lost its conference tournament game by 40 points.

And the football team is trying to regain relevance after moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the top tier of college football, in 2012. Since then the Minutemen have a record of 10-50, and played on-campus games last fall against Florida International, Tulane and Wagner, which are hardly familiar foes to area fans.

Still, after the football team finished 2-10 in 2016, Bamford expressed confidence in coach Mark Whipple, saying, “I think we acquitted ourselves well throughout the year. With a couple plays here and there, we might have had the opportunity to get a couple more wins.”

The same could be said of the men’s basketball season. We wish Bamford had shown the same patience with Kellogg that he did with Whipple.

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