BOWLING GREEN, KY (Bowling Green Daily News) - Ken McDonald will remain at Western Kentucky – even if it's not the most popular decision at the moment.
A week after finishing a tumultuous 2010-11 season with a 16-16 record, WKU athletic director Ross Bjork – along with McDonald – were slated to have a noon news conference today at E.A. Diddle Arena to announce the return of McDonald and staff, and publicly lay out a map for the Hilltopper basketball program.
Bjork said in a statement obtained by the Daily News that after meeting with McDonald five times following the close of the season – and consulting with others – the university has decided to remain with the coach who just completed his third season at WKU.
"Moving forward, Ken McDonald will continue to serve as our head coach," Bjork said in the statement. "I believe that stability in collegiate athletics is a key ingredient to a successful program. In my view, three years is a short window to judge a program and a young head coach. In addition, I studied the tenure – and the hot and cold stretches – of all 10 head coaches since (former WKU coach E.A. Diddle) roamed the sideline.
"Short circuiting another staff at this point is not always the right decision. I also understand that this decision may not be the most popular answer – but – I take my role as the steward of WKU athletics very serious and in this case, I am confident it's the right decision for WKU and WKU basketball."
McDonald will return to WKU, but will take a pay cut. The third-year coach will receive a new four-year deal that pays him a base salary of $250,000 – $100,000 less than he had been earning over the past two seasons.
This past season, the Hilltoppers started out 0-4 in Sun Belt play for the first time in school history, had one player fall academically ineligible midway through the year, and saw two others removed from the team for a violation of team rules.
In a statement, McDonald apologized for the recent downtrend.
"I would like to apologize to President (Gary) Ransdell, Ross, the WKU family and our fans for the embarrassing and unfortunate issues our program has had to deal with this past season," McDonald said in a statement. "I have also made personal and professional mistakes during my time here that have served as a distraction for our program, taken attention away from where it belongs, and kept me from coaching this team to the best of my abilities.
"The fact of the matter is I have gone through a divorce, and the last two years have been challenging for me on a personal level. I have been a part of this program for eight years now, and I know all of you deserve better."
In the statement, Bjork acknowledge several areas of concern for McDonald and the WKU basketball program in its current state, including academics, roster turnover and various other bumps in the road over McDonald's three-year run as the program's coach.
Bjork explained that the basketball program will adhere to a new academic retention plan set forth by WKU for all 400 of its student-athletes, and will begin to focus more on four-year players for its program – rather than short-term transfers and additions.
He also touched on the positives. McDonald – along with assistants Ray Harper and Lawrence Brenneman – have 62 wins in three seasons, were part of a 25-9 squad in 2008-09 that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and have signed what Bjork described as the highest rated recruiting class in WKU history for the 2011 season.
Bjork pointed out that McDonald's 33 wins in Sun Belt play over the past three years are more than any other school. Among the 34 college basketball coaches hired for a new jobs in 2008, only five have won 60 or more games, McDonald being one of them, Bjork added.
Bjork said he reached out to the likes of former McDonald employers Texas coach Rick Barnes and former WKU coach Dennis Felton, and former players Orlando Mendez-Valdez, Sergio Kerusch and Steffphon Pettigrew, and determined that keeping him was in the best interest of the program.
"Ken has shown me a strong resolve and a laser focus – especially the past month – and he has been very proactive in identifying and admitting to the mistakes that have been made under his watch," Bjork said. "He recognizes that it is imperative that his overall management of the program must improve and the negative trends must end now."