McDonald to stay as head coach with revised contract

Men’s basketball Head Coach Ken McDonald, left, listens Monday as Athletics Director Ross Bjork announces the university’s decision to keep McDonald as head coach after a tumultuous 16-16 season.

Zach Greenwell

By the time WKU officially announced Monday that Ken McDonald will continue as the school’s men’s basketball coach, the declaration carried little surprise.

But a bigger twist came when McDonald himself went to the podium in a crowded Diddle Arena media room, admitting his faults and calling for a push of the “reset button.”

McDonald sat with Athletics Director Ross Bjork as the latter issued his vote of confidence for the three-year head coach.

“Ken has shown me a strong resolve and a laser focus — especially recently — and has been very proactive in identifying and admitting to mistakes that have been made under his watch,” Bjork said in an opening statement. “He recognizes that it’s imperative that his overall management style must improve, and we must end the negative trends.”

The overall theme of Monday’s press conference was gaining a fresh start.

That includes a revised four-year contract for McDonald, which calls for a $100,000 pay cut back to his original 2008 base salary of $250,000.

Bjork said McDonald’s contract will now run through the 2014-2015 season, and McDonald will still have the chance to earn merit-based pay incentives. Bjork said the contract will be submitted for approval at the Board of Regents meeting on April 29.

Bjork has been evaluating McDonald — as he routinely does every WKU coach — since the Toppers’ season ended with a loss to North Texas in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament last week.

McDonald said those talks, which included five separate discussions, were largely about starting over.

“When something isn’t at the level you want it, you have to pick it up,” McDonald said. “I’m looking at myself first and making sure our staff is in line with me, making sure I set a tone and making sure the players follow it. What has gone on right now … is not acceptable.

“It’s our job to make sure we’re getting back on track.”

WKU went 16-16 this season, recording the program’s most losses in more than a decade.

But McDonald has gone 62-38 in his three-year tenure, making him one of just five coaches hired in 2008 that have won 60 or more games since.

His 62 wins are also second behind only John Oldham for most victories by a WKU basketball coach in his first three years.

Bjork said those achievements and several others played large factors in retaining McDonald, as well as his belief that three years is too “small of a window” to gauge a coaching career.

He said he turned to several people for advice, including coaches McDonald worked for as an assistant and his former players, including Orlando Mendez-Valdez, Sergio Kerusch and Steffphon Pettigrew.

“This is a very, very unique situation,” Bjork said. “We would not be here today, but for a few unfortunate personal matters, unnecessary ups and downs on and off the court, and if we had won more games. That’s the bottom line of why we’re here.”

It was also announced Monday that McDonald’s entire coaching staff will be retained.

Assistant Coach Ray Harper said the past week has been tense with so much uncertainty, but that everyone can now breathe a sigh of relief.

“It’s been hectic, and I felt for Ken,” Harper said. “It’s never easy, but I’m happy it turned out the way it did, and hoping to move forward and building on some of the success we’ve had in the past.”

The Toppers will be young next year, with the only senior being guard Kahlil McDonald.

WKU will have just seven returning scholarship players, but McDonald and his staff have received letters of intent from five players in the 2011 class rated three-star prospects by

McDonald said he’s confident the players and coaches in place for next season are the right ones to take the program in a “new direction.”

And with a new lease on his coaching life, McDonald said the Toppers have a new sense of enthusiasm.

“We’re going to approach this job like we just got named today to the coaching job at WKU, and we’re going to get after it,” he said. “We’re going to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to make sure we’re back on the level we need to be at.”