EDITORIAL: Basketball coach’s exit understandable but costly

Illustration+by+Ellery+Fry%2Fellery.fry%40marquette.edu

Illustration by Ellery Fry/ellery.fry@marquette.edu

Illustration by Ellery Fry/ellery.fry@marquette.edu
Illustration by Ellery Fry/ellery.fry@marquette.edu

At a university that dedicates so much of its energy and resources to basketball, Buzz Williams may as well have been considered an honorary member of the University Leadership Council. The name recognition that comes with Marquette’s performance on the court proves important to the overall state of Marquette. The university saw an increase of nearly 14,000 applicants in the 10 years following the team’s run to the Final Four in 2003.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Michael Hunt went so far as to put the former Marquette coach at the top of the leadership council list in a column on Monday.

“The men’s basketball coach typically has been the most powerful, influential person on campus,” he said. “Tom Crean and Buzz Williams held czar-like powers because they milked the cash cow.”

Buzz Williams has moved on, and his departure wasn’t just a matter of cutting ties after a bad season.

What exactly caused him to leave is difficult to pin down. But it took a strange concoction of missing pieces – a season without an appearance in the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, playing in a less competitive Big East Conference and the loss of a university president, athletic director and three other members of the University Leadership Council in the past year certainly didn’t help his case to stay.

For Williams – and even Roby Blust, the admissions dean who announced leaving Marquette for Regis University June 1 last week – a departure from Marquette is just another example of the catch-22 that university leaders found themselves in this year: It’s difficult to operate at a university without permanent leaders, and more permanent leaders decide to leave because of it.

This lack of leadership, combined with a lousy season for the Golden Eagles, left almost no certainty for Buzz Williams and his team had he decided to continue coaching here next year. Williams was going to have to try to rebuild his team without any solid leadership above him – most notably, no athletic director or university president set for next season.

With the move, Williams is passing on a permanent rollover contract that would amount to nearly $3 million next year. He led Marquette to three Sweet Sixteen appearances and one run to the Elite Eight in the three seasons preceding this year.

Buzz Williams is one of the most successful coaches in Marquette history and one of the university’s primary leaders. As a coach he would have had to rebuild his team without any knowledge of what was to come at the university – basketball aside.

Now he won’t have those uncertainties at Virginia Tech, and he will compete in a more serious ACC. Williams will be able to craft a team from the ground up more so than he could entering an already-successful Marquette legacy. If he saw an opportunity elsewhere among those circumstances, who can blame him for taking advantage of it?

With Buzz gone, the landslide of Marquette leadership departures that ensued this year reached its low point. It’s time for Marquette to reverse the pattern. The search for a head coach is being expedited for the very reasons stated above: Basketball is the university’s main avenue for recognition, and a strong head coach will mean stronger hopes for the university moving forward.