Reggie Witherspoon spent fourteen years behind the bench at Buffalo, but even before Buffalo came calling Witherspoon was a local guy with ties to the program.
"I was the ball boy when my brother Greg played for UB in the 70's. I remember back then I'd read about the big schools like Nebraska and Michigan in the sports magazines, and I'd think, 'Why isn't Buffalo in there?' " -- Reggie Witherspoon
Witherspoon played his college ball down the road from Buffalo at Erie Community College and also did a stint at Wheeling Jesuit, a Division II school in West Virginia. After returning to Buffalo and coaching high school for more than a decade at Sweet Home, Witherspoon returned to his Alma Mater just down the road from UB.
Then Buffalo's hoops program ran into big problems. UB's head coach, Tim Cohane, allegedly violated NCAA rules by watching uncommitted recruits play pick-up basketball in the UB gym, a charge Cohane denies. Cohane resigned on the eve of a UB home game against North Carolina in 1999. He has been suing UB, The Mid American Conference, and the NCAA for more then a decade.
Regardless of his guilt or innocence UB had a problem. They had no time to pick up a coach and the schools biggest home game since rejoining Division One. The answer was at a Community College down the street.
On the eve of the North Carolina game Witherspoon took the reigns and the former UB Ball Boy did not disappoint. Well into the second half Buffalo was in a position to beat one of the top teams in the nation, it was a thrilling contest against a national power which would see the Bulls fall just short. Since that night, Witherspoon has shared in interviews that he coached the game without knowing any of his players' names, just pointing when he needed subs.
Coach Witherspoon took a team burdened by scandal and then yoked by NCAA sanctions and turned them into winners. In an underfunded and unprepared athletics department he carved out a gem of a basketball program which went from conference door mat, to feared opponent and conference contender. Within a season of UB's exit from probation they were a winner, within two they were playing for the conference title.
In the post-probation world UB had just three losing seasons, all coming following severe graduation turnover, but each still featured UB getting out of the campus round of the MAC Championship Tournament. To date, since 2004 only Buffalo and Kent have managed that consistent level of play in the MAC.
Coach Witherspoon was honored several times during his tenure at UB
- 2004 MAC Coach of the Year
- 2004 Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Coach of the Year
- 2005 NABC District 1 Co-Coach of the Year
- 2006 USA Basketball U18 National Team Court Coach
- 2009 NABC District 14 (MAC) Coach of the Year
- 2010 USA Basketball U18 National Team Assistant Coach
His downfall at Buffalo had everything to do with his inability to win the conference tournament in a one bid league as the successes of leading the team out of probation faded further into the past and the athletic department started to funnel more money to the basketball program. Despite all the good he did at Buffalo two championship game losses and multiple tournament disappointments were too much for Buffalo's new athletics director to bear. So Danny White, looking to make his mark the UB Athletics Department fired Witherspoon and hired Bobby Hurley.
Witherspoon managed to make Buffalo a force in the MAC despite Buffalo's stingy spending during his tenure. While his peers were flying to conference games Witherspoon and the Bulls were busing it. He managed it, in part, because his U18 ties have made him an efficient recruiter.
The man is a team builder.
His teams were characterized by solid defense, which generated a lot of takeaways. His offense, which became known as "Reggie Ball" to Buffalo fans, involves a lot of perimeter passing and at times was very effective despite rarely featuring a 'slasher' who could drive and get to the net. He is a solid fundamental technical coach but his in-game coaching did have several weaknesses.
Time and game flow management seemed sporadic. Too many times double-digit opponent runs were allowed to continue until Buffalo blew a big lead.
The other aspect of his coaching which presented issues is that when Reggie Ball breaks down he does not have a lot of other things in his quiver. Once a team finds a defense that stopped or slowed the Bulls UB was often painfully slow to adapt.
Fortunately as an assistant you will see very little of Witherspoon's in game struggles and you will get all of his strengths. His players were fiercely loyal to the man fans, and even his detractors loved the man as a person. And as a recruiter he connects well with players and their parents.
For 14 years Witherspoon ran an impeccably clean program, was an overtime tip-in short of taking UB to the dance for the first time, connected to and stayed engaged with the fan base, and made UB one of the few regularly competitive teams in the MAC. We here at Bull Run were very sad to see him go, even if we understood the reason.
We will be pulling for him at Alabama!