Niagara Gazette — In what amounted to a wake for a living man who lost the job of his life, family, friends, supporters and reporters congregated Monday to hear Reggie Witherspoon speak publicly for the first time since he was fired Friday as the University at Buffalo men's basketball coach.
Six of Witherspoon's former players sat behind him, three on each side of the dining table, wearing solemn expressions and buttoned up collars, as if they were pallbearers. Another dozen people lined the walls.
Witherspoon opened up by thanking the University at Buffalo for the opportunity it gave him 14 years ago, and the players, coaches, staff and community members who assisted him along the way.
"I'm thankful that we got a chance to bring UB to a point where people were no longer questioning whether or not we should have Division I intercollegiate athletics," he said.
Witherspoon then spent more than a half hour trying to explain a situation he has yet to fully comprehend.
"I'm really still shocked by it," he said.
Referencing a preseason meeting with athletic director Danny White in which they talked about the recent success of the program and its direction, Witherspoon said he saw no reason to think that the Bulls first losing season in five years would cost him his job.
"He made it clear that regardless of what the outcome was going to be, we were going to have a different conversation than what we had on Friday," Witherspoon said.
Witherspoon said White told him Friday that the decision to make a coaching change was made back in December.
"I said if we were 20-14 instead of 14-20 ... he stopped me and said, 'We'd be having the same conversation,' " Witherspoon said.
The Bulls went 78-49 over the four seasons prior to this, their third losing season in a decade. Witherspoon's teams won at least 20 games four times in his 14 years. Before he took over amid NCAA sanctions in 1999, the Bulls had never won 20 games in a season, even as a Division III program.
Witherspoon had a career record of 198-228 at UB. Prior to his dismissal, he was the longest-tenured coach in the Mid-American Conference and the longest-tenured coach in Division I who had yet to lead his team to the NCAA tournament.
"The reality is that the program, where it is right now and with the most recent accomplishments, the only thing we haven't done is win the tournament in Cleveland," Witherspoon said.
Witherspoon regularly referred to the Bulls as "we" and said he has spent "more time thinking about the guys from this year's team and their futures," than his own. "I don't know mine," he said. "But I know theirs is pretty good."
Next year's team should include, among others, two-time all-MAC forward Javon McCrea, all-freshman guard Jarryn Skeete, local standout Will Regan, who came on strong at the end of the year, and point guard Jarod Oldham, who missed most of his junior season after leading the MAC in assists as a sophomore.
"There are times in the day when my mind goes to preparing for next year," Witherspoon said. "It's a great group of guys. They learned to play with each other pretty rapidly. If they all stay together there is no reason why they couldn't (win the MAC championship)."
Witherspoon is still grasping for a good reason why he won't be the one leading the Bulls toward that goal.
"Danny and I have never had even a disagreement, so it would be difficult for me to sit here and say bad things about Danny," he said. "Our conversations were always very good, until the final conversation we had. So that's why I'm just sitting here in shock."