WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – UNCW Chancellor Gary Miller said the decision to fire head men's basketball coach Buzz Peterson was "a community decision" based on a recommendation from Athletics Director Jimmy Bass.
Miller said members of the board of trustees were involved in the decision, although they didn't vote.
The chancellor explained the university evaluates its athletics teams each year. After this year's review of the men's basketball program, leaders decided they needed to take action.
Peterson, who was terminated Tuesday, had a losing record of 42-82 in four seasons as head coach of the Seahawks.
"What's important to us is the opportunity for the student athlete, and we just felt at this point that the best thing for them and the university was to make a change," Miller said.
"I don't know that it was a surprise to anybody," said Dennis Burgard, a trustee from Jacksonville who supported the move.
He said trustees didn't respond negatively when Chancellor Gary Miller emailed them to explain the university's plans.
"I suppose you'd call that tacit agreement," Burgard said.
Based on Peterson's contract, which runs through March 31, 2016, the university owes the coach at least $880,000 for termination without cause.
Charlie Maimone, UNCW's chief financial officer, said the total amount owed to Peterson hasn't been determined. After calculating unused vacation and other leave, the university could be on the hook for more than $900,000.
"I haven't looked at all the facts and figures of it," said Trustee Michael Shivar when told the possible total severance. "That would always give me heartburn to pay anyone, but contractually you have to follow the obligation we have."
The athletics department plans to take out a low-interest loan from a university trust fund in order to pay the remaining portion of Peterson's contract, according to Maimone, who said the department will have up to eight years to repay the debt.
The department ended the last budget year with a deficit of more than $400,000, Athletics Director Jimmy Bass told trustees in August. He vowed to break even this year by reducing expenses, putting off upgrades and increasing revenue.
Last spring, an Intercollegiate Athletics Review Committee proposed eliminating several athletics programs to cut costs, but the chancellor decided to keep the programs alive.
Nearly 70% of the athletics budget is funded from student fees. UNCW students pay an athletics fee of $539 and an athletics facilities fee of $108.
In a February report to trustees, Bass explained that Seahawk Club donations were up 92% year to date at the end of 2013. And in the same year, membership in the club totaled 1,068, exceeding the goal of 750.
Fundraising for athletics July 1 through the end of January was $726,315, an increase of 46% over the same period last year, according to Eddie Stuart, vice chancellor of university advancement.
Burgard, the trustee, explained the men's basketball program, which he called, "the star of the show," has to be strengthened so the university can improve fundraising and move forward with its long-term plan for athletics facilities.
"It's really making it hard to achieve those goals when there's not an excited community behind the men's basketball program right now," he said.
UNCW Student Body President Zachary Steffey said he supports the decision to terminate Peterson and that in speaking with students, he gathered "that the general consensus amongst the campus population was that the Basketball Program had reached the point that a new direction needed to be taken."
"As I am in my Senior year at UNCW I am optimistic that the new direction of the program will encourage future graduates such as myself to return to Trask Coliseum to cheer on the Seahawks," added Steffey.
The chancellor said the university began a national search for Peterson's replacement Wednesday, adding he wants a new coach in place as soon as possible.
Miller wouldn't say how much the university is looking to pay the new coach but said, "we want the very best coach we can get for what we can afford to pay and that is yet to be determined."
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