Duckett says he didn't resign

Updated: September 26, 2009, 11:51 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Grambling State basketball coach Rick Duckett told ESPN.com Saturday night he didn't resign but was fired.

Duckett was given a letter Friday morning telling him his services were no longer needed.

Duckett said the firing came as a surprise. It came a month after the death of junior college transfer Henry White. White died 12 days after becoming ill during a preseason workout -- a training exercise Duckett said he did not attend because he was having undisclosed surgery the same day.

"They didn't give me a reason [for the dismissal]," Duckett said by phone from his Grambling, La., home. "That's why I have to speculate."

The speculation centers on whether Duckett was fired for cause and whether he will be paid for the final three years on his contract. Duckett coached Grambling for one season and was 6-23, 4-14 in the SWAC.

White, 21, got sick during the practice session on Aug. 14 and died on Aug. 26 at a Shreveport, La., hospital. The Monroe News Star and the Ruston Daily Leader reported that the university and White's family attorney are investigating his death. White played at Washington High in Milwaukee before going to Marshalltown Community College in Iowa for one season and Hill Junior College in Texas last season.

Last week, WISN-TV in Milwaukee said White's family reported that players were made to run in 104-degree heat without water.

"We start from a position that it's very troubling that the university was running these athletes at 2 p.m. in August in Louisiana," said Larry English, a Shreveport-based attorney representing the family, according to the News Star.

Duckett said he couldn't comment on the specifics of the case because of the investigation. Duckett said assistants Steve Portland and Phillip Stitt were also relieved of their duties while assistant Robert Washington Jr., was retained to be the interim coach.

Technically, Duckett was put on administrative leave until Oct. 31 when his contract will be terminated. Duckett said he has retained an attorney. Duckett will likely seek some sort of compensation. Duckett said he wasn't offered any financial package at this juncture.

Duckett said having a player "die on your team is devastating. We all had to deal with that and now a month later we have to deal with this."

Duckett was hired at Grambling after coaching under Dave Odom at South Carolina from 2002-08. Prior to South Carolina, Duckett was a success at the Division II level, with a 150-75 record at Fayetteville and Winston-Salem State universities in eight seasons.

Duckett succeeded Larry Wright at Grambling. Wright was 88-160 during his nine seasons.

"I knew it would take four or five years to get this turned around," Duckett said. "So this didn't happen because of winning or losing."

Duckett said White's death has been hard to take over the past month.

"If you really care about this profession and the people you coach then you would never do anything to harm or hurt a kid or you couldn't survive in this business," Duckett said. "You have to have the best interests at heart. In the 29 years I've been doing this, I've never been associated with anything like this. I've always been so mindful and have cared about the student athlete. When something like this happens it throws you for a loop."

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE