Lickliter fired after three seasons

BY SCOTT MILLER | MARCH 15, 2010 5:22 PM

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UI Athletic Director Gary Barta addresses the media on Monday, March 15, 2010 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Rob Johnson/The Daily Iowan
UI Athletic Director Gary Barta speaks at a press conference regarding the termination of head men's basketball coach Todd Lickliter.

It was the worst-kept secret in eastern Iowa.

Even Hawkeye Sports Information Director Phil Haddy spoiled the news before Athletics Director Gary Barta’s 2:30 p.m. press conference on Monday to “discuss the future of the Iowa basketball program.”

Head coach Todd Lickliter, with four years left on a seven-year deal, was fired Monday morning after leading the worst three-season stretch in the history of Iowa basketball. Lickliter, who was 38-58 in Iowa City, is owed $2.4 million because of the termination clause in his contract.

Reading notes from yellow leaflets of paper, Barta called Lickliter “a tremendous basketball coach” but added a losing product, plummeting attendance, and steadily dipping revenue led to the change.

Lickliter was not available for comment Monday afternoon. Neither were any players, who are on spring break.

“In the end, it’s my responsibility to … get this basketball program back on track,” Barta said, and the search for a new head coach began on Monday.

In the years since Lickliter’s arrival, the Hawkeyes have set the program’s loss record twice — once in 2008 and once this year with 22 defeats — while attendance numbers have dived to all-time lows.

This season, Iowa averaged 9,550 tickets sold per game, the lowest mark in program history. As a result, basketball’s revenue has “declined dramatically,” Barta said.

“I made the determination [that] under the current circumstances, we can’t overcome that hill that we haven’t been able to climb,” said Barta, who hired Lickliter nearly three years ago.

Lickliter’s fate seemed to be all but determined after his team’s 59-52 loss to Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on March 11. With rumors swirling and several sources telling The Daily Iowan Lickliter’s tenure could be over, Barta did little after the season-ending loss to quell the speculation.

Never calling Lickliter by name, the athletics director released a terse statement in which he said, “I’ll do what I do at the end of every year. I’ll evaluate 2010 and make preparations for next season.”

The conclusion of Barta’s evaluation came Monday morning, when he ended Lickliter’s three-year run in Iowa City. By the time the buyout is paid, Lickliter will have made $6 million for his stint as head coach.

The 2006-07 National Coach of the Year, Lickliter saw nine scholarship players leave Iowa in three seasons. A source close to the team told the DI two current players threatened to transfer if Lickliter wasn’t let go.

“There were rumors,” Barta said about possible player defections. “I can’t deal in rumors. What I always try to do when I hear rumors is get to the bottom of them. I did the best I could in that environment. That’s really all I can say.”

Perhaps explaining a 10-22 record, this year’s team was one of the youngest in America, starting two sophomores and two freshmen. Seven of the nine scholarship players have been on campus for two years or fewer.

Assuming everyone under scholarship returns, sophomores Matt Gatens and Aaron Fuller and freshman Eric May will serve as the core of next year’s team. The trio combined to average more than half of the team’s 60.8 points per game.

“I am very much excited about the young people in this program,” Barta said. “I still believe strongly in this group. If this group will stay together, … for the first time in my tenure arriving in 2006, I really believe we have a chance to compete in the Big Ten conference.”

Though Iowa’s allure has been damaged the last three years, Barta points to the $43 million renovation underway on Carver-Hawkeye Arena — which will include a separate practice facility — as a possible attraction to head-coach candidates.

But as renovation crews hummed in Carver’s concourses, it was another kind of construction being unveiled a floor below. Sometime soon, Barta will hire the 22nd men’s basketball coach, and that coach will try to rebuild the once-proud program.

“I would love to never have to hire another coach again,” Barta said. “Please understand this [was] not something I enjoyed doing, and it was not something I anticipated doing, and it is not something I hope I ever have to do again.”

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