Western Kentucky men’s basketball coach Ken McDonald was relieved of his coaching duties Friday morning according to WKU associate athletic director Todd Stewart, hours after the Hilltoppers’ 72-70, overtime loss at home to Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday night. It was the team’s 11th loss of the season, fifth loss in the last six games and 27th loss in the last 48.
A press conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. today to officially announce McDonald’s release.
McDonald was in the midst of his fourth season. He guided the Hilltoppers to a 25-9 record his first season and a berth into the NCAA Tournament’s second round. In 2009-2010 WKU went 21-13, then 16-16 last season.
This year’s team included seven freshmen and nine total newcomers and included one of the programs most heralded recruiting classes ever.
Assistant coach Ray Harper will become the interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Harper spent 12 seasons as head coach at Kentucky Wesleyan and Oklahoma City University before coming to WKU. Compiling a record of 342-63 for an .844 winning percentage, Harper won four national championships while reaching the title game on five other occasions.
Harper was at the helm of KWC when that program was found to have used two ineligible players during the 2002-2003 season through an NCAA investigation. Wesleyan was forced to vacate its 2003 Great Lakes Valley Conference championship and was placed on three years probation. Harper was not named specifically in the NCAA report.
Statement from Director of Athletics Ross Bjork
“I have recommended to President Gary Ransdell that Ken McDonald no longer serve as our head men’s basketball coach, and he has agreed and supports my decision. President Ransdell and I met with Coach McDonald this morning to inform him of the decision, and then we met with and informed the entire men’s basketball staff. I also met with our student-athletes and discussed the reasons for our conclusion and told them that we are committed to all of them as students and athletes here at WKU, and we owe them the ‘great program’ they signed up for. All of our student-athletes are the number one priority for WKU Athletics.
“I want to thank Coach McDonald for his efforts during the eight-and-a-half years he served as our assistant and head men’s basketball coach. We all appreciate the time he has given to WKU, and we wish him well.
“Last spring, I felt Coach McDonald deserved the opportunity to begin positive trends with a new season, and we witnessed some encouraging elements during the summer and fall under his direction. Unfortunately, as this season has progressed, the plan has not worked out. We have a 5-11 record and do not rank in the nation’s top 200 in virtually any statistical category. This is not what the WKU basketball program should represent. While we pride ourselves on having an energetic and exciting atmosphere in Diddle Arena, our attendance levels are reaching historic lows. These disturbing facts are unacceptable, and we can no longer continue on this troubling course. Confidence, respect – locally and nationally, public support and an overall positive perception of the WKU men’s basketball program is lacking. Our historic program is too strong to be in this position. Simply put, WKU men’s basketball needs a new voice.
“Coach Harper has had proven success as a head coach, and we are excited to see how our team responds under his direction. Let me be clear, we are not giving up on this season. We have 13 conference games remaining, and we still believe this year’s team has much to achieve.”
Statement from President Gary Ransdell
“Ken McDonald has served WKU as both an assistant and head coach, and I would like to thank him for the time he has devoted to our university. Unfortunately, the current state of our program is both disappointing and unacceptable, and we can longer allow this to continue. This decision is about the welfare of the young men in our program. I want to challenge our fans to be in Diddle Arena tomorrow and the remainder of the season to support these young men and help rebuild this proud basketball program.”
Statement from Interim Head Coach Ray Harper
“I want to thank Coach McDonald for the opportunity to serve on his staff the last four seasons. I would not be here today if Coach McDonald had not hired me in 2008. Our season thus far has not gone the way we had hoped it would. I appreciate the confidence Ross Bjork and President Ransdell have shown me, and I will approach my new role with unrelenting persistence, energy and dedication. I ask the Hilltopper Nation to come together and support this team tomorrow against Troy and for the remainder of this season. We have a lot of basketball ahead of us.”
WKU Men’s Basketball under Ken McDonald
• 67-49 record
• 2009 Sun Belt Conference East Division Championship (25-9, 15-3 SBC)
• 2009-10: 21-13 (12-6 SBC)
• 2010-11: 16-16 (8-8 SBC)
• 2011-12: 5-11 (1-2 SBC)
• In his first 47 career games at WKU, McDonald was 34-13 (.723)
• In the next 69, he was 33-36 (.478)
• 12 home losses in the last 1.5 seasons are as many as the last 6.5 seasons combined
Updated Attendance Numbers:
2011-12: 3,095 through 9 games *
2010-11: 3,821 over 13 games
2009-10: 4,461 over 16 games
2008-09: 5,138 over 13 games
2007-08: 5,564 over 14 games
(*) lowest per-game attendance in the history of E.A. Diddle Arena (49 seasons – opened in 1963-64)
NOTE: next closest was 3,668 per game in 1998-99
Sun Belt Conference Home Attendance Leaders (through 01/03):
1) Denver: 5,234 per game
2) Middle Tennessee: 4,274 per game
3) North Texas: 3,424 per game
4) Louisiana-Lafayette: 3,395 per game
5) WKU: 3,214 per game
NOTE: WKU led the Sun Belt Conference in average home attendance for six-straight seasons (from 2004-05 – 2009-10) before placing second in 2010-11, and through Tuesday the 3,214 fans per game this season is fifth in the conference.
RPI Analysis (2011-12 figure through 01/05):
1998-99: 149 (Dennis Felton)
1999-00: 202 (Dennis Felton)
2000-01: 79 (Dennis Felton)
2001-02: 33 (Dennis Felton) NCAA RPIs through games of 01/05:
2002-03: 59 (Dennis Felton) 251: Stetson
2003-04: 145 (Darrin Horn) 252: Sacred Heart
2004-05: 71 (Darrin Horn) 253: UC-Riverside
2005-06: 58 (Darrin Horn) 254: Marist
2006-07: 94 (Darrin Horn) 255: WKU
2007-08: 26 (Darrin Horn) 256: Presbyterian
2008-09: 41 (Ken McDonald) 257: Houston Baptist
2009-10: 138 (Ken McDonald) 258: Detroit
2010-11: 199 (Ken McDonald) 259: Delaware
2011-12: 255 (Ken McDonald) 260: St. Francis (N.Y.)
Key Recruiting Class Analysis:
2009-10: Kene Anyigbo, Ken Brown, Stephon Drane, Kahlil McDonald, Brandon Peters
2008-09: Terrance Boyd, Jamal Crook, Caden Dickerson, Cliff Dixon, William Green, David Laury, Jordan Swing
NOTE: after back-to-back seasons with conference championships and wins in the NCAA Tournament, only five of 12 players brought into the program are on pace to exhaust their eligibility at WKU.