In Sports Commentary

After years of mediocre play UWM needs to make a basketball coaching change. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi)

If UWM really wants to be big time, it's time to make a a coaching change

Some of the most serious outrage I've ever gotten for something I wrote came when I belittled the UWM basketball program and suggested that the university drop the thing.

The outcry was enormous, forcing me to take another look at things. Eventually I changed my mind and suggested that UWM could be a basketball force in the Horizon League and that more resources be allocated to the team.

Since that time UWM has hired a new athletic director and signed a long-term lease agreement to play it's games as the Milwaukee Panther Arena Downtown. The university clearly wants to move into the big time and I'm okay with that.

One of the hallmarks of a big time program is the ruthless nature of coaching tenures. In the big time, if you don't produce, say goodbye and give someone else a chance.

It may well be time for Amanda Braun to take a hard look at Rob Jeter and decide to make a change. In fact, it may be well past time.

Let's take a look at what's happened while Jeter has been head coach.

In his first season the team went 22-9, won the conference tournament and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The caveat to this is that he inherited a team that had belonged to, and been recruited by, Bruce Pearl, the ethically challenged coach who brought excitement to the Panther program before jumping to Tennessee.

It would be eight years before the Panthers made it back to the NCAA tournament, which was a bit of a fluke as a team that went 7-9 to finish fifth in the league only to surprise everyone, including most likely themselves, by winning the conference tournament.

Then, the NCAA banned the Panthers from both the league and the NCAA tournament this season because the school didn't meet the minimum academic requirements for achievement by basketball players. You can't blame Jeter for all of this, but it did occur on his watch.

Under Jeter the Panthers have finished over .500 in six seasons and under .500 in three in league play. This year looks like a sure finish of under .500 as well.

It's important to understand that UWM is one of the biggest and richest schools in the Horizon League. Enrollments in the league range from around 5,000 (Valparaiso) on up. The University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) and UWM have the largest enrollments at nearly 28,000.

Jeter spent 10 years as an assistant coach under Bo Ryan and there was obviously some hope he would have learned some magic from one of the best coaches in the entire country.

That wish has obviously not come true, either in results or style of play.

So, where does this leave us?

It would seem to me, for a variety of reasons, Braun has to pull the trigger and get a new basketball coach.

That fanciful dream about building a new on campus arena has tottered to an end. The Panthers have a lease Downtown and they are barely climbing above 2,000 fans per game in a 12,000 seat facility. The only time they drew even a remote crowd was when over 10,000 fans showed up from one of the top ranked teams in the country located 90 minutes to the west.

They say all the right things about wanting to be a major program. And I don't criticize that talk. It is very possible to build a successful basketball program at a school in Milwaukee with 30,000 students.

I placed a call to Braun to talk about this, but she didn't return the call. I talked to a couple of associate athletic directors but they said Braun would have to be the one to comment. By the time darkness hit Monday there was still no word from Braun.Then they tried to fake me out with a 7 p.m. email. I've been dodged by the best in the game and this one didn't even come close to fooling me.

One quality of a big time program is when a writer for a site with the huge reach of calls abut something controversial, you call back. You don't run and hide.

But the biggest hallmark of a a big time program is that you don't continue to wallow in mediocrity, year after year after year. You don't let loss after loss after loss just keep on coming without doing something.

Somebody at UWM has to put their big boy pants on and begin to act like a program that actually has dreams and a plan to be something other than a lousy, boring and unattractive basketball team.

Note: This column originally listed an incorrect enrollment number for the University of Illinois-Chicago.



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