I’ve been contemplating the Reggie Witherspoon firing for hours now. I didn’t want to write anything I’d regret by going on pure emotion, whether the love for the best coach in modern school history or by a blanket statement regarding his lack of winning the big one.
So I’ll start by saying UB basketball is a respected program and Alumni Arena a tough place to play because of Reggie Witherspoon. When he arrived on campus from ECC via Sweet Home a decade and a half ago, he started from the bottom and chipped away with work ethic and class in transforming the reputation of the entire athletic department. That’s not an exaggeration. This is a coach whose hiring was a nice PR move for local hoops that turned into a boon for Buffalo. He was the sort of guy big enough to command respect but magnanimous enough to carry elevator conversations with random students, as he did with my wife when she was still an undergrad.
She never forgot that and I’ll never forget how he catapulted UB from my alma mater to my alma mater. The MAC tournament runs and NIT spin with Turner Battle flat-out made me a believer in the potential of UB Athletics. His enthusiasm was infectious and his personality had my friends betting on when he’d fling his jacket in the general direction of assistant coach Jim Kwitchoff after a refereeing offense he considered especially grievous.
The numbers are perplexing at surface level. Before this year, Witherspoon had reeled off a 78-46 record and three postseason appearances, minor that they were, over four years. He’s widely-regarded as a terrific developer of talent and in-game designer. The one knock has been consistent recruiting of star players, though he has lured names like Turner Battle, Mitchell Watt and Javon McCrea to Amherst.
So why has he been fired? Well, an injury-riddled 14-20 season isn’t a good moment for any program and new athletic director Danny White’s heart lies in hoops. With his history of playing ball at Notre Dame, coaching at Ohio U and spending time in administration at Ole Miss — not to mention his father being the AD at Duke — there’s no question that his experience and connections in hoops bodes well for his next hire. Clearly, White wants to make major imprints on UB and a record six games under .500 wasn’t doing it for him.
The answer is that sports, like life, are not fair. White has a vision for hoops culled from several major stops before Buffalo and Witherspoon doesn’t fit that vision. White certainly knows the pressure that comes with unseating a program legend and will be on high alert while developing UB into something bigger than a perennial MAC contender. All a fan has to do is peel their eyes around college hoops to see that non-power conference schools like Butler, George Mason, VCU and Murray State have become monster names on the national radar. As the largest public school in New York State and one with a growing football program, White wants more than a good story.
In the coming days, a lot of names will be bandied about, including a White family member. Michael White is the 2-year head coach at Louisiana Tech, currently 26-6 presently and 44-22 since he took over the reins. From speaking to some connects in the college coaching game, another name sure to be linked with the opening will be Ohio State assistant Jeff Boals, who has plenty of MAC experience and from what I understand will be sought after for plenty of jobs including the current opening at Ball State.