Despite 20 wins this season, Arkansas fires Heath

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Stan Heath was fired Monday after five
seasons at Arkansas after losing in the first round of the NCAA
Tournament for the second straight year.

The Razorbacks made the NCAA Tournament thanks to a late-season
run, but that was not enough to save Heath's job. Arkansas (21-14)
lost 77-60 to Southern California in the first round.

Arkansas spokesman Kevin Trainor said Heath and athletic
director Frank Broyles met Monday morning, and Broyles informed
Heath of the decision.

"The decision to make a coaching change was difficult due to
the respect I have for Stan Heath," athletic director Frank
Broyles said in a release. "He represented the University of
Arkansas with professionalism and integrity. ... However, in my
professional judgment, it is best that the program move forward
under new leadership in our efforts to return Razorback basketball
to national prominence."

Heath met with reporters in Fayetteville shortly after the

"I'm a little surprised, but in this business, universities
have the right to make decisions," Heath said. "They have the
right to make choices about what they want and what they feel is
best for their university."

Heath led Kent State to the round of eight in the NCAA
Tournament in 2002, then took over at Arkansas that offseason after
Nolan Richardson was fired. The Razorbacks missed the tournament
his first three seasons but made it in 2006 and 2007, losing in the
first round each time.

"I realize here the expectations are really high," Heath said.
"It's Final Four, it's Sweet 16s, and it's SEC championships on a
regular basis. ... I really feel like this team was poised to do

Arkansas went 9-19 in 2002-03, then improved its win total for
three straight seasons.

Heath's record at the school was 82-71, but he went 31-49 in
Southeastern Conference play.

Heath indicated ticket sales and lukewarm fan support might have
played a role in his dismissal.

"The season ticket sales and the fan base was [Broyles']
biggest concern," Heath said. "I don't have those figures, but
I'm sure he keeps track of them."

When the Razorbacks struggled toward the end of the regular
season, reports surfaced that Heath would be fired if Arkansas did
not make the NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks then won five straight
games and reached the SEC tournament final.

Arkansas made the NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed before being
blown out by USC.

"About five years ago, when I came here, I knew it was a hard,
hard job -- the environment was tough," Heath said. "There were a
lot of things we had to deal with, and we found a way to get
through that. I'm proud of that. I'm proud of the fact that this
program is better now than it was five years ago when we started."

Arkansas fired Richardson in 2002 after the coach said toward
the end of a frustrating season, "If they go ahead and pay me my
money, they can take the job tomorrow." Broyles said he
interpreted the remark as a sign that Richardson had lost faith in
the program.

Richardson subsequently sued, saying Arkansas discriminated
against him because he is black and outspoken. A federal judge
ruled against Richardson, as did the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of

Broyles, who is retiring at the end of the year, said the search
for a replacement will begin immediately. Speculation has centered
around Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie, but Arkansas said it won't
comment publicly on potential candidates.

A Texas A&M spokesman said Gillispie would have no comment on
the Arkansas job.

"The University of Arkansas has a rich tradition of excellence
in basketball," Broyles said. "These past successes and the
tremendous fan support of our program have established the very
highest standards and expectations for our program. We will work
diligently to find the best candidate who will not only embrace our
winning tradition but enhance it."

Last week, Heath expressed confidence he would return at his
end-of-season news conference.

"I think there has been a lot of misinformation out there,"
Heath said at the time. "I think there's a lot of truth to some
things that have been said, but it's not the full truth."

Whoever coaches Arkansas next season will inherit plenty of
talent. The Razorbacks had no seniors on this season's roster.
Guard Patrick Beverley was named SEC newcomer of the year -- and
fellow freshmen Stefan Welsh and Michael Washington were
contributing by the end of the season.

"I feel a little disappointed that I didn't get a chance to
coach what I think was going to be my best basketball team," Heath