K-State fires Wooldridge after first-round exit

Updated: March 9, 2006, 10:33 PM ET
Associated Press

DALLAS -- Kansas State fired basketball coach Jim Wooldridge on Thursday shortly after the Wildcats' season ended with a loss in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.

Athletic director Tim Weiser said Wooldridge needed to get the team into the NCAA Tournament to keep his job. By finishing 15-13 following a 73-65 loss to Texas Tech, that wasn't going to happen, so he was let go.

"The expectations were pretty clear," Weiser said. "We wanted to be in the NCAA Tournament. We thought the prospects were very good. That's why I continued saying until our season was over we weren't going to make any decisions."

Weiser broke the news to Wooldridge following the game and then told the team at its hotel. He returned to the arena to discuss the decision at a news conference.

Wooldridge went 83-90 over six seasons. He took over a club coming off a 9-19 season, got it to 14-14 in his fourth season and then had winning records each of the last two seasons. Although this year's club won two fewer games, it beat top rival Kansas for the first time since 1994 and lost nine games by five points or less, including consecutive one-point losses to Texas and Oklahoma.

While Weiser thanked Wooldridge for leaving the program better than he found it, he made it clear that wasn't good enough.

Wooldridge never got the Wildcats higher than seventh in the Big 12, never won more than one game at the league tournament and never made the NCAA Tournament or even the NIT. K-State hasn't been in the NCAA field since 1996 and hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game since reaching the regional finals in 1988.

"We appreciate what Jim and his staff have done," Weiser said. "But, as most of you know, this is a bottom-line profession. We have high expectations for all of our programs. We had hoped by taking the time we had that things would turn out differently, but they have not and it's time for us to move on."

Weiser said a nationwide search would begin immediately, with former South Carolina and Vanderbilt coach Eddie Fogler assisting him. Having gone through a similar process in the fall after the retirement of football coach Bill Snyder, Weiser said he hopes things move quickly -- but he won't rush anything.

"We're not going to hurry up and make a mistake," Weiser said. "We want somebody familiar with our situation. Does it have to be a K-Stater? No. We will not limit ourselves on those things. We want to find somebody that can take us to the NCAA Tournament."

Wooldridge has a career record of 312-237 over 19 seasons, with previous stints at Louisiana Tech, Texas State and Central Missouri. Before taking over the Wildcats, he spent two years as an assistant with the Chicago Bulls at the start of the post-Michael Jordan era.

This season was especially tough for the 50-year-old Wooldridge because of a bulging disc that required surgery last month. He worked the final six weeks with a neck brace.

"I think we made a lot of progress," Wooldridge said during his postgame news conference. "We have kids with a great deal of life. I wish we could have won the game today. It would have been a good way to move forward."

Wooldridge was fairly popular with players, fans and alumni. Leading scorer Cartier Martin recently called him "a caring coach ... a great person off the court."

"It's out of my hands," said sophomore guard David Hoskins, who led Kansas State with 25 points against Tech. "I'm preparing myself to play next year."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press