Wyoming's McClain fired after 17-15 season

Updated: March 12, 2007, 7:12 PM ET
Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- The University of Wyoming fired coach Steve McClain on Monday, just days after the Cowboys finished barely over .500 and missed postseason play for the fourth year in a row.

McClain was coach at Wyoming for nine seasons, compiling an overall record of 157-115, including 67-63 in league play over one season in the Western Athletic Conference and eight in the Mountain West Conference.

But the Cowboys were just 17-15 overall and 7-9 in the MWC in his final season -- the end of a four-year string of mediocre finishes.

"We just needed a new direction for the program, a new face, so to speak, to represent our program," athletic director Tom Burman said in a news conference.

Burman said everything from losses to ticket sales to academics factored into his decision.

McClain's contract was to extend through the 2009-10 season. Under the terms of that contract, the university will pay McClain a lump sum of $380,000 for the remaining three years.

Burman said ticket sales have been down at Wyoming, from about $1.1 million a few years ago to around $600,000 this past season. He said somewhere around the middle of those numbers would have been more acceptable.

"There's a couple hundred thousand dollars that could be generated immediately with ticket sales with new leadership," he said.

Burman fired McClain just five months after starting as athletic director. He said the athletics staff had been contacting the players and that a team meeting had been scheduled for next Monday.

The Associated Press tried to reach McClain at his home and office Monday, but he didn't immediately return phone messages.

The move came just hours after Colorado State fired coach Dale Layer. Also, New Mexico officials announced in February that coach Ritchie McKay would be fired at season's end. And Utah officials announced earlier this month that Ray Giacoletti wouldn't return next season.

Burman said he hoped to hire McClain's replacement within three to four weeks. He acknowledged that other vacancies could make finding a new coach more difficult.

"That definitely changes things when you have so many openings at the same time, so many regional openings and nationally as well," he said.

Louis Engels, a walk-on player from Sheridan said he'd heard rumors throughout the season about McClain's job status but paid them little mind.

"In college basketball, it's a tough world, I can tell you that much," he said. "It's kind of like, 'What have you done for me lately?"'

He said McClain always made him feel welcome even though he was a walk-on.

Things started well for McClain at Wyoming. In his first season, the Cowboys finished 18-10 and earned an invitation to the NIT. The next season, Wyoming went 19-12, but didn't get a postseason bid.

In 2001, Wyoming finished 20-10 and won a share of the Mountain West championship, the team's first shared title in 15 years. The following year, the Cowboys went 22-9 and won outright their first regular-season conference championship in 20 years. They also got their first NCAA bid in 14 years, upsetting No. 6 Gonzaga 73-66 before losing to Arizona 68-60.

In 2003, Wyoming finished 22-11 and was invited to the NIT.

But Wyoming struggled over McClain's last four seasons. The Cowboys finished 11-17 in 2004 -- McClain's first losing season -- and 15-13 in 2005.

Last season, Wyoming went 14-18. As the season wound down, a reporter asked McClain if he was worried about losing his job. McClain responded with a string of profanities and apologized for the outburst the next day.

Rumors of McClain's imminent firing persisted into last year's Mountain West Conference tournament. But Wyoming stayed alive in the tournament until losing the title game to San Diego State, 69-64, in overtime. McClain kept his job.

Burman wouldn't speculate on whether getting further in the tournament or getting a postseason bid would have saved McClain's job this year.

"I don't know because it didn't happen," he said. "Kind of hard to gauge how we would have looked at it."

McClain was an assistant at TCU for four seasons before he went to Wyoming in 1998 to replace Larry Shyatt, who left to become Clemson's coach.

McClain graduated from Chadron (Neb.) State College in 1984 and began as an assistant there. He was also an assistant at Sioux Empire Junior College in Hawarden, Iowa; Independence (Kan.) Community College, and Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press