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UMass 16-12 after 3 losing seasons under Lappas

AMHERST, Mass. -- Steve Lappas was dismissed Monday as the
basketball coach at Massachusetts following four seasons in which
the Minutemen had a 50-65 record.

Lappas had been hired in 2001 to turn around a faltering
program. The Minutemen improved to 16-12 this year after three
straight losing seasons but were eliminated in overtime by LaSalle
during the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament last week and
failed to get an NIT bid.

"This isn't a real positive day, but one we felt was
necessary," athletic director John McCutcheon said in announcing
the decision.

McCutcheon said a search for a replacement was under way.

UMass restructured Lappas' contract last year to add incentives
based on attendance and the team's record. A postseason bid would
have given Lappas a bonus amounting to two years of his $185,000
annual base pay. But the school also included a clause allowing it
to buy him out for half his annual salary.

Lappas came to Massachusetts after nine years at Villanova,
during which the Wildcats went to the NCAA Tournament four times
and the NIT three times. But his teams never made it beyond the
second round of the NCAA Tournament and he quit in 2001 after
Villanova lost in the first round of the NIT.

Over a 17-year Division I coaching career that began at
Manhattan in 1988, Lappas' teams have a combined 280-237 record.

He had declined to speculate on his future following his team's
early departure from the league tournament. However, Lappas had
made clear he felt that the young team with four sophomore starters
had improved significantly over the season.

Home attendance rose slightly to an average of 3,869 from last
season's average of 3,192. But the only time this season the team
came close to filling the 9,493-seat Mullins Center was when the
Minutemen stunned defending NCAA champion Connecticut 61-59.

The arena was sold out for every game during Massachusetts'
winning seasons from 1992-97.

McCutcheon said the decision to fire Lappas came after reviewing
his entire work as coach, the state of the basketball program and
its prospects for the future.

"When evaluating all those criteria, we felt that a change was
in order for the best interest of the basketball program and the
university in the long run," he said. "It's just that we didn't
get to a level of competitiveness that we felt we needed to be
at."

Junior forward Jeff Viggiano was disappointed with the decision.

"We all feel bad," Viggiano said. "We wish things didn't go
this way. Now we've got to stay together as a team."