UMass 16-12 after 3 losing seasons under Lappas

Updated: March 15, 2005, 11:34 AM ET
Associated Press

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."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press