LITTLE ROCK, AR – Stan Heath was fired Monday after five seasons at Arkansas after losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
The Razorbacks made the NCAA tournament thanks to a late-season run, but that was not enough to save Heath’s job. Arkansas (21-14) lost 77-60 to Southern California in the first round.
Arkansas spokesman Kevin Trainor said Heath and athletic director Frank Broyles met Monday morning, and Broyles informed Heath of the decision.
“The decision to make a coaching change was difficult due to the respect I have for Stan Heath,” Broyles said in a release. “He represented the University of Arkansas with professionalism and integrity. … However, in my professional judgment, it is best that the program move forward under new leadership in our efforts to return Razorback basketball to national prominence.”
Heath met with reporters in Fayetteville shortly after the announcement.
“I’m a little surprised, but in this business, universities have the right to make decisions,” Heath said. “They have the right to make choices about what they want and what they feel is best for their university.”
After Heath led Kent State to the round of eight in the NCAA tournament in 2002, he took over at Arkansas that offseason after Nolan Richardson was fired. The Razorbacks missed the tournament his first three seasons but made it in 2006 and 2007, losing in the first round each time.
“I realize here the expectations are really high,” Heath said. “It’s Final Four, it’s Sweet 16s, and it’s SEC championships on a regular basis. … I really feel like this team was poised to do that.”
Arkansas went 9-19 in 2002-03, then improved its win total for three straight seasons.
Heath’s record at the school was 82-71, but he went 31-49 in Southeastern Conference play.
Heath indicated ticket sales and lukewarm fan support might have played a role in his dismissal.
“The season ticket sales and the fan base was (Broyles’) biggest concern,” Heath said. “I don’t have those figures, but I’m sure he keeps track of them.”
When the Razorbacks struggled toward the end of the regular season, reports surfaced that Heath would be fired if Arkansas did not make the NCAA tournament. The Razorbacks then won five straight games and reached the SEC tournament final.
Arkansas made the NCAA tournament as a No. 12 seed before being blown out by USC.
“About five years ago, when I came here, I knew it was a hard, hard job _ the environment was tough,” Heath said. “There were a lot of things we had to deal with, and we found a way to get through that. I’m proud of that. I’m proud of the fact that this program is better now than it was five years ago when we started.”
Broyles, who is retiring at the end of the year, said the search for a replacement will begin immediately. Speculation has centered around Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie, but Arkansas said it won’t comment publicly on potential candidates.
A Texas A&M spokesman said Gillispie would have no comment on the Arkansas job.