After 13 seasons, 197 wins, but no NCAA Tournament appearances, the Pat Douglass era is over at UC Irvine.
Athletic director Mike Izzi made the announcement that Douglass’ contract would not be renewed on March 11, shortly after UCI’s season ended in the first round of the Big West Tournament.
“I believe this decision is in the best interest of the university,” Izzi said. “It allows us to move the men’s basketball program in a new direction with the goal of annually being in the upper tier of the Big West Conference as well as competing in the NCAA Tournament.”
Before coming to UCI, Douglass won three Division II National Championships from 1987 to 1997 at Cal State Bakersfield, putting him in elite company. Douglass is one of only six NCAA coaches who have led their teams to three or more national championships. After his third title in 1997, Douglass was hired at UCI to lead the Anteaters out of the miserable Rod Baker tenure. Three seasons removed from a 1-25 season under Baker, Douglass’ Anteaters won 25 games in 2000-01 and then went 21-11 the following season for back-to-back Big West Conference titles. Unfortunately, the Anteaters were upset in the Big West Tourney both years, and were forced to settle for National Invitational Tournament appearances.
“A nationwide search will begin immediately to hire the new head coach. We appreciate the contributions that Pat has made and wish him well in his future endeavors,” Izzi said.
Douglass has always been highly touted as a skillful game preparation and “X’s and O’s” coach, but his teams have suffered in recent years with recruits that have not panned out in the long run. After the ’Eaters last made a run to the Big West Tournament Finals in the 2007-2008 season, the last two seasons have been marked with disappointing junior college transfers and freshmen classes that have failed to provide UCI with as many scoring options as its competitors.
“Coach Douglass was a real tough coach who really pushed his players to their limits to get the best out of them, and overall I think he did the best job that he could while he was here. He’ll be missed,” Patrick Rembert, one of the team captains, said. “But as far as next year, I’m sure Mr. Izzi is doing the very best job that he can right now to find us the best coach possible to lead this program back to the top … we have a lot of guys [coming] back that are really hungry and determined.”
Speculation on the new coach hiring surrounds Izzi’s previous Stanford connections. Those with Cardinal connections include current University of Portland Head Coach Eric Reveno, Golden State Warriors Assistant Coach Russell Turner, Concordia University Head Coach Ken Ammann, and current UCI Assistant Coach Doug Oliver. Meanwhile, former Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried and UCLA Assistant Donnie Daniels were also mentioned by the OC Register as candidates. Sources from the UCI athletics department expect an announcement on a new hiring within the month.
The 73-69 loss to Cal Poly (12-19) in the first round of the Big West Tournament left the 2009-10 ’Eaters with a final record of 14-18 on the year. UCI had a 14 point lead at one point in the second half, but allowed Cal Poly to chisel away at the lead, until the Mustangs took the lead for good at 67-65 with 3:22 to go.
“We got a good lead in the second half but then [Cal Poly] started penetrating,” Douglass said. “We tried to go zone and they made their threes. We had our chances down the stretch … they did a good job of going to the foul line and converting their free throws.”
With five seconds left in the game and UCI still down two, sophomore Eric Wise was called for a highly questionable offensive foul while driving to his left against Mustangs guard Lorenzo Keeler.
“Generally you let the kids decide the ball game, and I think in this case the [referee] decided the ball game,” Douglass said.
Junior Darren Moore led the charge with 19 points on 7-11 shooting, ending the year on a strong note. Moore’s play saw a marked improvement in aggressiveness, and he will be counted on to be a leader for the ’Eaters from the get-go next season. Fellow junior Rembert, who had 13 points, four assists, and zero turnovers, also ended the year on a tear, and will likewise be counted on next year.
“We fought all the way to the end,” Moore said. “We came to practice every day and we were still in tune to the goal which was to come here and make something happen … I’m proud of everyone in the locker room.”
Wise recorded his fourth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds, as the big man received All-Big West second team honors for the second straight season. Senior guard Michael Hunter received Big West honorable mention accolades for the second straight season as well.
Meanwhile, senior Zack Atkinson ended his time at UCI with one of the best games of his career. Atkinson had three emphatic dunks, as well as at least four blocks, energizing the ’Eater Nation faithful early on.