Pat Kelsey backs out of UMass; Search for new men’s basketball coach resumes

  • Former Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey was to be introduced as the next UMass coach on Thursday. Kesley, according to ESPN, has backed out. AP

  • Molly O’Mara, standing right, who is the associate director of athletics for communications and public relations at UMass, directs people waiting in the George “Trigger” Burke Lounge toward exits after announcing that a ceremony to welcome incoming men’s basketball coach Pat Kelsey had been canceled due to “unforseen circumstances”, Thursday at the Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

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    A group of people who expected to see a ceremony and press conference to welcome incoming UMass men's basketball coach Pat Kelsey at the Champions Center, Thursday, leave after it was cancelled due to "unforseen circumstances". Later, it was announced that Kelsey asked to be released from his employment agreement, which was executed on Tuesday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

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    A group of people who expected to see a ceremony and press conference to welcome incoming UMass men's basketball coach Pat Kelsey at the Champions Center, Thursday, leave after it was cancelled due to "unforseen circumstances". Later, it was announced that Kelsey asked to be released from his employment agreement, which was executed on Tuesday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 3/23/2017 4:54:48 PM

Pat Kelsey will not be the new UMass men’s basketball coach after all.

The Winthrop coach, who agreed to a five-year contract Tuesday, called UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford a half hour before his introductory press conference to withdraw.

Two hours later, Bamford held a conference of his own at the Mullins Center. He started by reading a statement.

“At 3:30 this afternoon Pat Kelsey asked to be released from his employment agreement at UMass which was executed on Tuesday,” Bamford said. “After speaking with Pat about his decision, I honored his request and we are now working through how this impacts our executed Memorandum of Understanding. In my conversation with Pat, he made it clear that his reasons were very personal and upon his request, I will honor our confidential conversation. Pat stressed that his decision was not based on the University of Massachusetts or our basketball program. Again, his reasons were personal in nature. I know that the unforeseen circumstances surrounding his decision were not in our control. At this time, we will resume our search for the next leader of our program. I am confident that we will hire a remarkable coach who will return our program to national prominence.”

Bamford then read a statement on Kelsey’s behalf.

“For personal reasons, I have asked the University of Massachusetts to allow me to be released from the offer I accepted to be the next head men’s basketball coach,” Kelsey said. “To be clear, this decision is entirely personal and in no way an assessment of the commitment UMass made to me personally or to the resources available at UMass to have a nationally-recognized program. I apologize to Chancellor (Kumble) Subbaswamy, Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford, members of the basketball program and the UMass community who embraced my appointment this week and made me feel welcome since arriving on campus yesterday.”

Bamford said the memorandum of understanding (the agreement that precedes a finalized contract) included language that states Kesley would owe UMass $1 million if he left within the first two years of the five-year deal. Bamford said he wasn’t sure how that would be resolved.

“Once he signed it on Tuesday, there was buyout language that is standard for coaching contracts. At this time the first two years of the MOU was a million dollar buyout. That’s what we’re trying to sort through now. This is all so new I want to make sure we have time to sit and talk with our university leadership and with Coach Kelsey and his representatives and before we make any legal statement.”

Bamford initially steered clear of speculating whether Kelsey would be returning to Winthrop or pursuing another opening.

“I’m under the impression that he’s going back to Winthrop, but I don’t think it’s my place to confirm or deny that. That is my impression.”

Pressed on whether Kelsey would be expected to pay the full buyout, Bamford wasn’t sure how it would play out.

“I don’t know if Pat will end up at Winthrop or somewhere else. I’ll reserve comment until we’ve had a chance to understand what the impact is,” he said.

UMass was initially paying Winthrop a $150,000 buyout for hiring Kelsey. It will not be on the hook for that money if Kelsey returns to Winthrop.

Kelsey’s statement from Winthrop said he was returning to his old job.

“UMass is an amazing program with a winning tradition and a bright future that any coach would be proud to be a part of,” he said. “But after further reflection, I have decided to remain at Winthrop. I realized that at this point in my career Winthrop and Rock Hill (South Carolina) is the best place for my family and me. I look forward to being back at the Coliseum and leading my team as we look to win another Big South championship.”

Bamford said he was confident that UMass would still end up with a great coach.

“This is a great job. This is a great university. We’re going to find somebody that wants to come here and return us to national prominence. This is just a road bump for us,” Bamford said. “I’m disappointed because I thought we had somebody who was going to take us there. The interest in this job, as it has been the last two weeks, is strong. We’re going to find the next leader who is going to take us exactly where we need to go. A leader who is going to represent us and allow us to have a remarkable experience while we go and win games.”

Bamford wasn’t sure whether Fogler Consulting was available to continue the search.

“We have a good enough idea of the landscape to go forward on our own if we need to,” Bamford said.

Bamford admitted he wasn’t sure how Thursday’s events would affect his approach to the hiring process going forward. He did not have a timetable for finding a new coach.

“I haven’t considered the next steps. I need to sit and clear my head a little after this,” he said. “Once I have a chance to digest this and figure out what the path forward is, we’re going to hard charge and we’re going to find the right leader.”

The sudden decision turned a coronation into confusion at UMass’ Champions Center practice facility, which was hosting the event.

Fans, cheerleaders, media and much of the athletic administration had filed in and were socializing. But 10 minutes before the start, assistant athletic director Molly O’Mara told assembled media that the event had been “cancelled, due to unforeseen circumstances.”

Fans were ushered out of the building.

Kelsey, who arrived on campus Wednesday, toured the facilities and had dinner with the UMass players. The school chronicled his arrival with a camera crew and posted pictures and videos all over social media.

The announcement was so sudden that members of the hoop band, which had been summoned to play at the event, were playing the school’s fight song outside on the Champions Center balcony while the fans and boosters were being ushered out below.

“As the leader of our organization, this is on me. I take this personally,” Bamford said. “Hiring our next head coach is personal to me because I owe it to our student athletes to hire somebody great.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at

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