ANN ARBOR, Mich. Defeats, discipline problems and
dwindling attendance proved to be Brian Ellerbe's downfall at
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.
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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. Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
|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.|
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