On Friday March 10, it was announced that Miami would not be renewing the contract of men’s head basketball coach John Cooper and that it would be relieving women’s head basketball coach Cleve Wright. Both changes come after 2016-17 seasons that ended with 11-21 regular season records.
“It’s a gut-wrenching decision, thinking about making those kinds of decisions,” Athletic Director David Sayler said. “I just felt that each program needed a different direction and a different energy within the program to get us back to where I want to be, which is competing for championships in the Mid-American Conference.”
Both teams lost their first game in MAC tournament play, ending their chances of a MAC Championship. Though disappointing ends to these seasons, men’s basketball has not won more than 13 games in its past five years with Cooper as head coach and women’s basketball’s 11 wins this season was the most Wright has seen during his time at Miami.
“I think that for both of them you have to look at their recruiting base and where we are and how many scholarships are coming open,” Sayler explained why the changes came this year. “[We’re] trying to make decisions to best ensure the future of the program in the quickest fashion, in terms of turning it around. That’s a lot of what goes into looking at these situations.”
Sayler spent time with both teams on the Friday the changes were announced. Since the 10th, several of the teams’ student-athletes have seen Sayler for reassurance about the future but most responses have been positive.
Redshirt junior guard Dion Wade was one of the athletes who stopped in to talk to Sayler.
“Obviously, it sucks because the coaches are great people, but the change is needed since they haven’t had a good record since they’ve been here even though they’re great people,” Wade said. “We’re just kind of nervous right now to figure out what’s going on and who we’re going to have coming in. I’m hyped up about it, but at the same time I feel ok about it.”
The athletic department is conducting a national search to fill the positions and is holding the student-athletes’ best interests at heart, though Sayler is also looking to benefit the Miami community with the choices. It is no secret that Millett Hall is vastly under-attended on game days and the changes should also benefit the teams’ fans.
“In both cases, someone with great energy, a real great work ethic. Very personable, good in the community,” Sayler said. “I really want coaches that are going to rally the student body, I think that’s important for us to look at and consider – to try to get out and spend more time with Miami students and working with them on coming to more games. And also great contact and someone who’s had proven success.”
Undoubtedly, the student-athletes will miss the coaches they’ve come to know during their time at Miami.
“He gave the team a home-feel,” Wade said. “If you ever had a problem you could always go up to him and talk to him about it. The relationship I’ve built with the coaching staff — I’ll have to do that all over again.”
Cooper acknowledged that the nature of a coaching position combined with his team’s losing records led to the administration’s desire to not renew his contract, but he will nevertheless miss being able to impact the lives of the athletes he coaches.
“It always starts with the young men that you had the opportunity to coach and to be a part of their lives – that’s what it’s all about and certainly a lot of the friendships that were made and being able to be around the Miami community,” Cooper said. “Me and my family live here in Oxford and certainly will remember it and we enjoyed our time here.”
For now, the community looks forward to the announcement of new coaches and to a hopefully, more competitive next year.
“I believe in the school and the ADs here and that they’ll make the best decision for us,” Wade said. “So, I’m excited to see what’s going to happen and what kind of coach we’re going to get. It’s a brand-new start.”
A women’s basketball player could not be reached before publication.