Western Kentucky fires McDonald after 5-11 start
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — Western Kentucky fired basketball coach Ken McDonald on Friday after a 5-11 start capped by a chaotic ending to a loss the night before.
Assistant Ray Harper was appointed interim head coach by athletic director Ross Bjork, who said the team needs a "new voice" and someone who can help restore "respect" to the program and stop the slide in attendance.
McDonald finishes with a 67-49 record following a 72-70 overtime defeat to Louisiana-Lafayette when the Ragin' Cajuns appeared to have six players on the court for the final possession.
Harper spent 12 seasons as head coach at Kentucky Wesleyan College and Oklahoma City University before moving to Western Kentucky as an assistant for the 2008-09 season.
"Last spring, I felt Coach McDonald deserved the opportunity to begin positive trends with a new season, and we witnessed some encouraging elements during the summer and fall under his direction," Bjork said. "Unfortunately, as this season has progressed, the plan has not worked out. We have a 5-11 record and do not rank in the nation's top 200 in virtually any statistical category. This is not what the WKU basketball program should represent."
Western Kentucky has been in steady decline since McDonald took over following a run to the round of 16 in the 2008 NCAA tournament. Western Kentucky returned to the tournament in 2009, but missed the postseason each of the last two years. It is on its way to a losing season, which would be its first since finishing 11-18 in 1999-00.
McDonald took a $100,000 pay cut in March to help get the Hilltoppers back on track following a 16-16 season. But his latest team struggled even more — losing all three games in a holiday tournament in Charleston, S.C. and a home game to state rival Murray State.
"Our attendance levels are reaching historic lows," Bjork said. "Confidence, respect — locally and nationally, public support and an overall positive perception of the WKU men's basketball program is lacking. Our historic program is too strong to be in this position. Simply put, WKU men's basketball needs a new voice."
The Hilltoppers drew 3,813 for their season opener against St. Joseph's and managed just 2,137 in the loss to the Ragin' Cajuns on Thursday night despite a $1 ticket promotion.
In that game, after a timeout in the closing seconds of overtime, video showed the Ragin' Cajuns broke their huddle with six players. Elfrid Payton hit a layup with three seconds remaining to win the game.
Western Kentucky did not immediately file a protest. The game officials — Roger Ayers, Reinaldo Acosta and Brad Gaston — huddled after the game but the play stood. The Sun Belt Conference said Friday it had reviewed the matter and planned to release a statement later in the day.
The 50-year-old Harper is from Bremen, Ky., and was honored as Division II Coach of the Year at Kentucky Wesleyan three times in nine seasons. He also earned NAIA Coach of the Year honors at Oklahoma City after leading the Stars to a 2007-08 national championship. He is 342-63 as a coach.
Harper joined Western Kentucky the following year as an assistant.
"Our season thus far has not gone the way we had hoped it would," Harper said. "I will approach my new role with unrelenting persistence, energy and dedication. ... We have a lot of basketball ahead of us."