Despite 20 wins this season, Arkansas fires Heath

Updated: March 26, 2007, 9:02 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Closer Look: Stan Heath's Record
Stan Heath

Stan Heath was fired from Arkansas, despite leading the Razorbacks to two consecutive 20-win seasons. Overall, he's 112-77 in six seasons as a Division I head coach.

School Years Overall NCAAs
Kent State 2002 30-6 Elite Eight
Arkansas 2003-2007 82-71 Lost in first round, 2006 and 2007

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 announcement.

"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 that."

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 Appeals.

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 said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press