The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
BEAUMONT — With losses mounting, attendance sagging and apathy toward the Lamar University basketball program in the danger zone, Lamar University’s first year president Dr. Ken Evans pulled the plug on head coach Pat Knight Sunday afternoon.
Though five games remain in Knight’s third season, Evans felt nothing positive would emerge from letting the son of Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight play out the string. Evans named Tic Price, a former head coach at New Orleans, Memphis and McNeese State, to finish the season as interim head coach, with a promise to consider him for a full-time gig.
Knight, with players recruited by his predecessor Steve Roccaforte, won the Southland Conference tournament and its automatic NCAA bid in his first season. LU basketball has been a disaster ever since, with the Cardinals going 6-50 overall and 3-27 in the Southland Conference. They are 3-22 this year, after setting a school record for losses en route to a 3-28 record in 2012-13.
Knight’s overall record at LU was 29-62. Included in the lowlights was a stretch of 15 consecutive losses at the Montagne Center and 13 straight SLC setbacks. ESPN has the Cardinals ranked No. 345 out of 351 Division 1 teams.
The decision to terminate Knight is a costly one, with Lamar owing roughly $400,000 on a contract than runs through April of 2016 at $200,000 per year. He was given a $50,000 raise and had the contract extended for a year, after getting Lamar into the NCAA tournament.
“We appreciate Coach Knight’s contribution at Lamar and wish him the best,” said Evans, who informed Knight Sunday morning that he was being terminated. A formal announcement was not made until 2 p.m. and ESPN, where Knight’s father is employed as a game analyst, wound up breaking the news an hour earlier.
“I was told last night to meet with the president and the AD this morning at 10 a.m., Knight told ESPN’s Andy Katz. “I knew it. There’s no talk. They said they wanted to go a different direction. We’ve struggled for two years. It’s all based on record.
“I did what I wanted to do. I coached a team in the NIT (at Texas Tech) and I coached a team in the NCAA. I should have gotten out after the NCAA.”
Evans said he told Knight Sunday morning than he would give him until 2 p.m. to break the word to Lamar players and members of his coaching staff. He wouldn’t specify the exact dollars on the buyout, but acknowledged that $400,000 was “in the ballpark.”
Price, who had a 167-122 record at UNO, Memphis and McNeese State, said he was stepping into a tough situation but one that he doesn’t see as hopeless. Plus coaching is still in his blood.
“I’m a basketball coach by nature,” Price said. “When Dr. Evans approached me, it was bittersweet because I hate to see anybody lose their job. I’m sorry this has happened. But the chance to coach again appealed to me and I embrace the opportunity. I want to see if I can help this team finish strong.”
Price, who has been Lamar’s interim assistant vice president for student engagement, and prior to that worked with athletic director Jason Henderson, said he would very much like to become the Cardinals head coach on a full-time basis.
“Definitely, I want to be strongly considered,” he said. “I’m leaving a position that I immensely enjoy. For me, it’s always about making a difference with young people. I sincerely appreciate Dr. Evans giving me the opportunity and trust. They will get my very best and my all.”
Price said he thinks there is enough talent on the Lamar team to win some of the five remaining games.
“The biggest problem is these players are mentally fragile. They are not having a good year and they just lost their coach. I met with them this afternoon and am looking forward to practice on Monday. I can’t change a lot at this point in the season, but we can tweak a few things.
“What I’m going to have to figure out quickly is this team’s basketball IQ and its learning curve. How much new stuff I can add will be determined on the overall IQ and the ability to learn on the fly. We’ll certainly tweak a few things to give other teams something to think about.”
Price’s first game as interim head coach will be Saturday night against Sam Houston State in the Montagne Center. Lamar dropped an 84-70 decision at Sam Houston State on Feb. 8.