WKU Head Coach Ken McDonald has been fired effective immediately, the school announced Friday, amid swirling rumors that the fourth-year coach's job was in jeopardy. He'll be replaced in the interim by assistant coach Ray Harper.
“I have recommended to President Gary Ransdell that Ken McDonald no longer serve as our head men’s basketball coach, and he has agreed and supports my decision," Athletics Director Ross Bjork said in a statement. "President Ransdell and I met with Coach McDonald this morning to inform him of the decision, and then we met with and informed the entire men’s basketball staff.
"I also met with our student-athletes and discussed the reasons for our conclusion and told them that we are committed to all of them as students and athletes here at WKU, and we owe them the ‘great program’ they signed up for. All of our student-athletes are the number one priority for WKU Athletics."
Bjork and McDonald sat in front of media, fans and coaches last March to announce that McDonald would take a $100,000 paycut but remain as head coach.
The two proclaimed that the program, which had struggled since McDonald's first year as coach and missed the NCAA Tournament two straight years, would be "hitting the reset button" — promising a renewed focus and effort.
There was little to show for that this season despite McDonald bringing in arguably one of the top recruiting classes in WKU's rich history.
The Toppers sit at 5-11 now after a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette Thursday night in which the Ragin' Cajuns scored the game-winning shot with six players on the court.
Bjork made it clear that McDonald's firing had much more to do with the overall product that was on the floor this season, not just a knee-jerk reaction to Thursday night's fiasco.
“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. 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. While we pride ourselves on having an energetic and exciting atmosphere in Diddle Arena, our attendance levels are reaching historic lows. These disturbing facts are unacceptable, and we can no longer continue on this troubling course. 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."
McDonald ends his tenure at WKU with a 67-49 overall record. He won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament once, in his first year during the 2008-2009 season, and made it to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.
Ransdell called the current state of WKU basketball "disappointing" and said they could simply no longer allow it to continue.
"This decision is about the welfare of the young men in our program," he said. "I want to challenge our fans to be in Diddle Arena (Saturday) and the remainder of the season to support these young men and help rebuild this proud basketball program.”
Harper was introduced Friday as the interim head coach.
He said in a statement that he owed thanks to McDonald because had McDonald not hired Harper, a former national championship winner at Division-II Kentucky Wesleyan, as an assistant in 2008, he wouldn't be in a position to be the head coach.
"Our season thus far has not gone the way we had hoped it would," Harper said. "I appreciate the confidence Ross Bjork and President Ransdell have shown me, and I will approach my new role with unrelenting persistence, energy and dedication.
"I ask the Hilltopper Nation to come together and support this team tomorrow against Troy and for the remainder of this season. We have a lot of basketball ahead of us.”