Taylor gets Ball State job after Hunter declines

Updated: August 8, 2007, 7:29 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Ball State's coaching uncertainty has come to an end.

The school hired Lehigh's Billy Taylor as the new head coach on Tuesday, filling the vacancy created by the departure of Ronny Thompson.

"It was clear that Billy Taylor wanted to be the head coach at Ball State University," athletic director Tom Collins said in a statement. "Billy has head coaching experience, Midwest roots ... and was highly successful in a great league."

Earlier Tuesday, Ron Hunter withdrew from consideration for the opening, telling ESPN.com he had decided to remain as the head coach at IUPUI.

Taylor interviewed for the Ball State job a year ago when the school hired Thompson. He was introduced as the new coach during a news conference on Wednesday at the Muncie campus.

"It's so difficult that first year, whether it's April or August," he said. "It's tough to really find the right fits and the right players at that late time. It's important for us to get off to a good start in this recruiting period and to make the key connections so that we can be successful in the early signing period in November."

Thompson resigned three weeks ago after an internal investigation discovered that he and his staff violated NCAA rules two years in a row by attending voluntary offseason workouts. The coaches also lied about their involvement in that infraction in May, the school has said.

Thompson's Washington-based attorney, Matthew Keiser, said on Monday that Thompson denied breaking any NCAA rules. Keiser also said Thompson, who is black, did not quit because of the investigation and that his resignation letter told Ball State officials of the "racially hostile work environment" he had faced. The school said it is investigating his claims.

On Monday, the NCAA asked Ball State to investigate more possible violations, including allegations that the women's volleyball coach was fired for reporting a possible men's basketball violation and that extra benefits were provided to current players and a player from another university who Thompson was recruiting as a transfer to Ball State. The new allegations were first reported by the Muncie Star Press.

The new allegations, which were revealed Monday afternoon, were a major factor in Hunter's return to IUPUI, according to a source close to the situation. Both Hunter and Taylor are black, and Hunter said on Tuesday that he was also aware of Thompson's claims about the racial climate.

"I did look into it a little bit, but that wasn't the reason I made the decision," Hunter told The Associated Press. "I was a little concerned about the NCAA problems."

Taylor has an 81-69 record in five seasons at Lehigh. His greatest success came in 2003-04 when he led the Mountain Hawks to their first-ever Patriot League regular-season and tournament titles and an NCAA Tournament berth. He is a two-time Patriot League coach of the year. Lehigh went 12-19 last season.

Taylor graduated from West Aurora High School, which is southwest of Chicago. The Ball State campus is in Muncie, also relatively close to Chicago. Recruited by Digger Phelps at Notre Dame, Taylor played for the Fighting Irish and graduated in 1995.

Hunter had been the front-runner for the Ball State opening.

He will receive a new contract to stay at IUPUI, where he has coached for 14 seasons, he said Tuesday. His old contract was signed through the 2012-13 season. His new contract, which will boost his annual base salary of $120,000, will run through the 2014-15 season. His new salary is commensurate with the money that would have been available at Ball State.

With Hunter returning to IUPUI, Collins interviewed Taylor in Indianapolis on Monday night, according to a source close to Ball State.

"I know I have made a lasting, positive impact on the student-athletes in the program and I leave the men's basketball program in a better position than when I came here," Taylor said in a statement issued by Lehigh.

Lehigh athletic director Joe Sterrett said Taylor was dedicated to the school during his time there.

"Unfortunately, I think the timing of this is less than ideal," Sterrett said. "I hope this move turns out to be the right one for Billy."

Lehigh faced some rules troubles under Taylor and decided to officially forfeit 13 games from the 2004-05 season because of an ineligible player. The school said it misinterpreted an NCAA rule concerning a player for whom it did not accept some transfer credits.

According to the Ball State source, three other candidates were considered for the job: South Florida assistant Dan Hipsher, former St. Louis head coach Brad Soderberg and Texas Tech assistant Stew Robinson, a native of Indiana and a three-year starter for former Indiana coach Bob Knight.

Senior writer Andy Katz covers college basketball for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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