After weeks of speculation, Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin announced yesterday that Brian Ellerbe would no longer coach the Michigan basketball team and that a search process to find a replacement would begin immediately.

Paul Wong
fter four seasons during which he failed to significantly improve the winning percentage of the Michigan men”s basketball team, Brian Ellerbe was forced out yesterday by Athletic Director Bill Martin.<br><br>FILE PHOTO

Martin refused to specify what his exact reasons were for dismissing the coach other than to say that the team had not made the necessary improvements over the past four seasons that he had hoped for.

“Sunday afternoon during a meeting in my office I asked Brian Ellerbe to step down as head coach of the University of Michigan men”s basketball team,” Martin said in a written statement. “This has been an extremely difficult decision and one I made only after careful assessment of the entire program.”

Ellerbe will receive $447,000 in compensation, which Martin said is consistent with the terms of his contract that call for a three-year payout of his base salary.

In a statement he released to the Detroit Free Press, Ellerbe thanked those who had worked with him while he was coach and maintained that he believed he had met the standards set forth when he was given the job.

“When I took this assignment, I knew our program faced several issues that were left for us to deal with,” Ellerbe wrote. “I also knew that returning the program to competitive standards commensurate with Michigan”s rich athletic tradition would not be done overnight. I am confident I fulfilled the guidelines established by President Bollinger and Tom Goss by running our program with integrity.”

Basketball players had a final team meeting with Ellerbe yesterday afternoon to say goodbye to their coach.

Martin outlined the process for searching for a new coach, which said he hoped to begin as soon as this weekend. While choosing not to name any specific candidates, Martin said he was looking for someone with Division I head coaching experience, who could represent the University well with “strong public speaking skills.”

“First and foremost, I want to make certain we have a coach who recruits kids that by and large want to stay in school four years, will graduate and bring honor to the institution,” Martin said. “Beyond that, I want a coach who understands the game of basketball, Xs and Os, has been a winner at the Division I level and somebody who can be a part of the Michigan family.”

When asked if former Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino, who won a national title with Kentucky, was the man for the job, Martin simply said that “Rick would be someone we would like to look at.”

To bring in a big name coach like Pitino or Seton Hall coach Tommy Amaker, the Athletic Department can expect to spend around $1.5 million per season, a sum that would exceed that of Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr. Considering the department”s recent budgetary woes, Martin was unclear as to whether that type of money would be available, but didn”t rule it out.

“You see what the market is at this time, you evaluate your own budget, you look at what are the increased revenue potentials with particular coaches in terms of refilling Crisler (Arena), in terms of increasing the sponsorship capabilities that we would have with a revitalized program, and you go from there,” Martin said.

Martin will not be alone in his search for Michigan”s next coach. The athletic director plans to put together a screening committee of five to seven former and current basketball players who will interview all of the candidates and report back to Martin. The committee will not act as a selection committee, but will merely offer suggestions.

Martin also plans to consult two “experts” who will aid him in the selection of candidates for the job. Declining to state their names, Martin instead described them as two members of the Basketball Hall of Fame who had both won as coaches “at the highest level.”

Over the weekend, Martin met with associate head coach Scott Trost and assistant coaches Kurt Townsend and Terrence Greene and explained that they would be retained pending a decision from the new coach. Sophomore guard Gavin Groninger said the players liked the assistants and wanted them to remain with the program.

“Hopefully it will be a smooth transition,” Groninger said. “I think a lot of the players would like to see one of the staff members stick around when we get a new coach.”

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