It wasn’t an easy afternoon for anyone involved, but the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga did what it needed to do on Wednesday, and that was say goodbye to longtime Mocs basketball coach John Shulman.
Shulman, who was entering the final year of his contract, wanted to return as the school’s head basketball coach, but wasn’t going to do so without a multiyear deal. After compiling a 145-146 in nine seasons, though—24-40 in the last two—the administration simply couldn’t justify an extension.
The two sides agreed to part ways instead.
“John has assembled a talented group of young student athletes, and he wants to keep things moving forward,” UTC interim athletic director Laura Herron said. “However, at this point, with a contract extension not in the future...we feel it’s in the best interest of all parties that this course of action take place.”
Shortly after Herron’s statement, a somber Shulman stepped to the podium to address the group, which, in addition to the media, included his players.
“Those (players),” said an emotional Shulman, referring to his former team seated in the back of McKenzie Arena’s Hall of Fame Room. “Some of you weren’t supposed to show up today, because it hurts.”
“We’ve got a great group of young kids and a great coaching staff,” Shulman added. “An unbelievable group of kids that, not only I’m excited about, but you all should be excited about. We made unbelievable strides academically, and we made great strides on the basketball court for young kids. They’re going to be very successful, and they’re going to be very successful for the next coach.”
Herron, who has served as the school’s interim AD since Rick Hart’s departure in mid-July, also announced that UTC will honor the final year of Shulman’s contract, which is worth $138,000. The school will move forward with its coaching search, announcing the open position and accepting resumes, but Herron stated that the incoming athletic director will be responsible for naming Shulman’s replacement.
“I would like to thank John and his family for the nine years they’ve given to Chattanooga basketball,” said Herron, who headed the search committee that hired Shulman back in April 2004. “... I’ve witnessed the passion he brings to Chattanooga basketball, the passion he has for positively impacting the lives of our student athletes.”
Despite his disappointment, Shulman expressed his gratitude to the university.
“Very few times in life do you get to live your dream and fulfill your dream,” he said. “When I was a little kid all I wanted to do was coach basketball. I wanted to be a college basketball coach, and I wanted to take a team to the NCAA Tournament. I got to fulfill my dreams, and I’m forever grateful that I got to do that.
“I’m awfully proud of what we did, and now it’s time to say goodbye.”
UTC assistant coach Casey Long, one of Shulman’s former players and a member of the 2004-05 NCAA Tournament team, has been promoted to interim head coach and will take care of the program’s administrative duties until a new coach is hired.
“It’s a very emotional day,” Long said. “Coach Shulman was one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for and one of the best coaches in UTC history. Second-most in all-time wins, the NCAA Tournaments, but the main thing is the players love him.”
The players elected not to speak to the media Wednesday, but Long, who had spoken with the players earlier in the afternoon, knew just how they felt, calling it “one of the toughest days I think we’ve had here at the university.”
“We lost one of our coaches, one of our brothers and one of our father figures,” Long said. “We’ve spoken to the players about it, and they’re not taking it very good. They love coach Shulman. Most of them, they only came here because of coach Shulman. They took it just like the coaches. We’re a family, we’ve always preached that through good and bad, and they took it hard. But they’re young, they’ll bounce back and they’ll just have to keep their heads up and stay motivated.”
When asked what the future held for Shulman, his answer was simple and shortsighted.
“I’m going to breathe and I’m going to figure it out,” he said.
In the eyes of UTC’s interim Chancellor Grady Hogue, there’s only one answer.
“I know what I hope he’ll do,” Hogue said. “He loves coaching and he ought to do what he loves.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.