No tourney bids doom Peterson

Updated: March 15, 2005, 11:33 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Buzz Peterson was fired as Tennessee's basketball coach after the Volunteers failed to make the NCAA tournament during his four years at the school.

The Vols finished 14-17 overall and 6-10 in the Southeastern Conference this season after losing to Kentucky in the second round of the league tournament. It was Peterson's second losing season in Knoxville, leaving him with a 61-59 record in his four years.

"Buzz has many of the characteristics we have looked for in a coach, but we were found lacking in the area of wins and losses in a business that measures its success according to such parameters," athletic director Mike Hamilton said at a news conference Monday.

Hamilton informed Peterson of his decision Sunday evening. Peterson seemed somewhat surprised but handled the news in a "first-class" manner, Hamilton said. Assistant coach Chuck Benson was asked to manage basketball operations in the absence of a head coach.

Peterson did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

With the return of every starter from last year, Tennessee hoped to reach the NCAAs for the first time under Peterson this season.

Peterson, whose contract is worth $769,500 a year and runs through the 2008-09 season, was the fourth coach at Tennessee since Don DeVoe was fired in 1989.

Peterson, 41, was hired in April 2001 to replace Jerry Green, who was ousted after taking the Vols to the NCAA tournament four straight seasons. The Peterson buyout will cost Tennessee nearly $1.4 million, and the university still owes Green a final payment of his buyout next January.

Initially, there was excitement around the prospect of "Buzzball" taking off under a coach embraced by the fans.

Peterson met with Hamilton and university president John Petersen on Feb. 28, and Hamilton said then he would announce a decision on the coach after the season.

In the following weeks, Hamilton was contacted by Peterson supporters, including former star Tennessee athletes Peyton Manning and Todd Helton, Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, North Carolina coach Roy Williams and Peterson's college coach, Dean Smith.

Football coach Phillip Fulmer said he spoke with Peterson on Monday.

"Everybody in this profession knows how volatile it can be and Buzz certainly understood that," Fulmer said.

Hamilton declined to specify a timetable for making a hire, saying the search will take as long as needed to find the right coach.

Peterson came to Tennessee after one season at Tulsa, where he went 26-11 and won the NIT. He spent four seasons at Appalachian State before Tulsa and took the Mountaineers to the NCAA tournament in 2000 and was twice honored as the Southern Conference coach of the year twice.

A native of nearby Asheville, N.C., Peterson played on North Carolina's 1982 national championship team with Michael Jordan. Peterson's father, Bob, is a graduate of Tennessee and often took his son to Knoxville to watch games.

Peterson, a well-liked personality off the court, has said he enjoyed coaching at Tennessee and believed the Vols can win championships. But the Vols did not even receive a bid to the NIT this season after ending the past two years with losses in the first round of the NIT.

"It's disappointing," Peterson said after the 76-62 loss to Kentucky at the SEC tournament. "It doesn't meet my standards at all. I've been in winning programs, where we competed for championships."

Tennessee loses two senior starters from this year's team -- guard Scooter McFadgon and center Brandon Crump. Next season the Vols will return point guard C.J. Watson for his final year and guard Chris Lofton, who set the SEC mark this season for the most 3-pointers scored by a freshman.

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