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Wednesday, March 14, 2001
Michigan, Ellerbe working on buyout details

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Defeats, discipline problems and dwindling attendance proved to be Brian Ellerbe's downfall at Michigan.

Ellerbe was fired Tuesday after four seasons as coach of the Wolverines, who went 10-18 overall and 4-12 in the Big Ten Conference this year.

Brian Ellerbe
Brian Ellerbe had been on the hot seat at Michigan most of this season. The Wolverines didn't help him, losing nine of their last 10.

"I did not see the improvement in the program over the past four years that I hoped for and that I believe is possible," athletics director Bill Martin said at a news conference. "I believe it is in the best interests of our student-athletes and the basketball program as a whole to have new leadership at this time."

Martin said he asked Ellerbe to resign Sunday.

The Wolverines were 62-60 under Ellerbe, and several players were suspended for missing practices and violating curfew this season. Within the last year, Jamal Crawford entered the NBA draft following a shortened freshman season because of NCAA violations; Kevin Gaines was kicked off the team for runs-in with the law; and two other players transferred.

Michigan's fan base, which has traditionally been more interested in football than basketball, went from apathetic to angry during the Ellerbe era. Attendance fell at Crisler Arena 30-35 percent.

Rick Pitino's name has already surfaced as a replacement. Asked if he planned to call Pitino, who led Kentucky to the 1996 national title and left as coach and president of the Boston Celtics this year, Martin grinned. "I think Rick would be somebody we'd like to talk to," he said.

Pitino was asked if he was interested in the opening at Michigan when reached late Tuesday night after working as an analyst for CBS during the Winthrop-Northwestern State game.

"I really don't have much to say because I haven't talked to them," he said.

Although Pitino has not talked to Martin or anybody associated with Michigan, he said he has great respect for the university.

"Michigan is one of the best universities in the country," Pitino said. "It stands for excellence in academics first and foremost before its excellence in sports. Really, you can never say anything bad about Michigan. It's great inside the lines and outside the lines."

When Ellerbe arrived at Michigan in 1997, he didn't step into a positive environment. One season after losing his job at Loyola (Md.) College, where he was 34-47 over three seasons, Ellerbe was hired as an assistant under Steve Fisher.

But he quickly replaced Fisher, who was forced to leave amid accusations that a booster lavished money and gifts on the Wolverines.

An internal investigation revealed two secondary violations, but a cloud of uncertainty with the NCAA has not gone away because the FBI continues to investigate the booster, Ed Martin, regarding various charges.

"Brian took over this team in the midst of some trying times, and we all realize the challenges he has faced," Bill Martin said. "I considered this during my evaluation of the team."

Michigan, with players such as Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock, were 25-9 and won the Big Ten tournament during Ellerbe's first season.

But the next three years, the Wolverines were 12-19, 15-14 and 10-18 and didn't finish better than eighth in the Big Ten.

Ellerbe will receive $447,000 for the final three years of his contract.

Ellerbe, 37, said he ran the program with "integrity," and was thankful for the opportunity.

"When I took this assignment, I knew our program faced several issues that were left for us to deal with," Ellerbe said Tuesday on the Detroit Free Press' Web site. "I also knew that returning the program to competitive standards commensurate with Michigan's rich athletic tradition would not be done overnight."

Martin said he planned Tuesday evening to call the recruits Michigan has already signed to encourage them to attend the school.

"My deepest, heartfelt thanks goes out to the many community leaders and alumni who came forward in recent days to support me and my program," Ellerbe said in his statement. "I cannot thank you enough for your thoughts and expressions of concern."

Ellerbe avoided any bitterness – or mention of Martin.

"As for me," he said in closing, "I have tried to handle myself with dignity and class through some very challenging times. I look forward to receiving an opportunity to continue my career in a game I truly love."

Within the next week, Martin will put together a screening committee made up of current and former players and administrators. Martin said he also will seek the advice of two people, who he declined to identify, who are in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Also, the president of the Detroit chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other community leaders have expressed concerns to school officials about the treatment of Ellerbe and whether it would be fair to fire him.

The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, sent a letter to university president Lee Bollinger last week questioning whether Ellerbe is being held to an unfair standard because he is black.

Bill Martin said he would welcome a meeting with the NAACP and other community leaders. He added that he will have black candidates among his pool of coaches.

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