Yesterday Canisius Men’s Basketball coach Jim Baron announced his retirement. In four years with the Golden Griffins he had two 20-win season and a 73–59 record. The two 20-win seasons came when he had his son Billy Baron on the roster, once Billy graduated the Griffs fell to 18 and then 14 wins.
To lose your coach this late in the off season is never a desirable timeline, and Canisius is left scrambling to find a new coach. With this kind of time frame Pat Clarke, an assistant under Baron and the current interim coach, is certainly a long-term possibility. Clarke is in his fourth year at Canisius and has been a long-time assistant under Baron at previous stops.
Beyond our passing interest in a local and regular foe, UB fans will likely follow Canisius' search even more closely, as two coaches from the "UB Tree" that jump as as possibilities are Reggie Witherspoon and Turner Battle.
Witherspoon coached more than a decade just a few miles from Canisius. He took an underfunded and scandal-ridden Buffalo program from a bottom feeder in the MAC into a relatively consistent top quarter-of-the-conference team. He took the Bulls to three 20+ win seasons, an NIT tournament, a CBI, and two CITs.
Witherspoon is well-liked and well-known in the Buffalo area thanks to his UB career and time at ECC and Sweet Home prior. His most recent work is on Matt McCall's staff at UT-Chattanooga.
Turner Battle played for and coached under head coach Reggie Witherspoon at Buffalo. He was the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year in 2005, leading the Bulls to a 23-win season while averaging 15.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. After a brief professional career in Europe he joined Witherspoon's staff at Buffalo in 2007, mentoring strong seasons from point guards Byron Mulkey, John Boyer, and Jarod Oldham.
When Buffalo decided to make a coaching change in 2013, Battle went to Chattanooga for two seasons before moving to UAB, where he has helped the Blazers reach the postseason in back-to-back seasons. In 2014, Battle and the Blazers won a school-record 26 games and captured the Conference USA tournament championship, going on to upset Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Last season the Blazers went to the NIT after winning the C-USA regular season title, but falling in the tournament quarterfinals to Western Kentucky.
The case for Witherspoon:
Witherspoon's only fault as a coach at Buffalo is not winning the conference tournament in a one-bid league. Danny White decided to shake things up and it worked for Buffalo. I do not, however, believe it's because 'Spoon lacked as a coach. I just think sometimes things are not clicking and change is needed.
In addition to being a good coach who runs clean basketball programs, Witherspoon would bring the Griffs a Buffalo media darling fresh off the fawning response to Baron's retirement. In a time when their rival, Niagara, is getting savaged in the papers, Canisius would be getting glowing reviews.
A very important aspect to consider is the relationship between Canisius AD Bill Maher and Witherspoon. Maher was on the UB Athletics staff that brought in Reggie when the Bulls found themselves suddenly without a coach in 1999 and rose up the department ladder and Reggie built the program into a MAC contender. When he was asked yesterday about Witherspoon, Maher said he would want to talk to Reggie if he was interested in the job.
The final reason 'Spoon would be a good find? Reggie loves the Buffalo area as mush as it loves him. You have to think that the job would pique his interest.
A Witherspoon hire from a UB perspective
Conrad: Reggie is a "lose lose" as TBN would froth at a Canisius win over UB
Tim: I think with White and Hurley gone along with UB winning back to back MACCs any spiking of the ball by the local media would come across as pointlessly petty
Earlier this week we were talking about UB's dominance over two of the "Big4" members. The Bulls passed Canisius basketball some time ago. The Griffs may win a game every few years but for nearly a decade it's been UB's series, and UB has been the far more consistent representation in the postseason.
When Griffs do beat UB it's not a huge story. Sure it's usually an upset but upsets happen when you play the same teams every year.
Conrad's point is that if you put Reggie on the sideline and the Griffs get one of those upsets you can bet on snide stories aiming to remind the world how "unfairly" UB treated Witherspoon.
After he was fired in 2013, certain media personalities jumped all over any Buffalo misstep as proof that White's "brash" personnel decision was a disaster. It took a conference championship in 2014-2015 to shut them up.
While I think that a Witherspoon hire might add a bit of spice to the next few Canisius vs Buffalo games I'm not worried about the media. I believe they have overplayed their hand.
I'm of the mind that any more bashing of Hurley and White expose certain members of the media as hacks. Because both Hurley and White are gone. Personally, I would love a chance to dissect any attempt to try and paint the 2013 moves as a mistake.
The case for Battle:
While Witherspoon is the experienced coach with a history in the region Turner Battle is the up-and-comer. Young but fantastic at what he does, the UB star was promoted to the role of associate head coach at UAB. Battle is hungry, talented, and while he is maybe a guy who will eventually move on, it would only come with real success at Canisius.
While he would not be the PR coup that Witherspoon would be, Battle would still get good press for the Griffs and has been a decent recruiter at Buffalo, Chattanooga, and at UAB.
A Battle hire from a UB Perspective
Conrad: It would be nice to let T Batts develop in the minors.
Robby: We can just swoop Battle up if Oats leaves.
Conrad: Then if Oats moves on just poach him.
Robby: Conrad and I are on the same page
Battle's hire would help season a coach who might someday end up at UB. Being a few miles away could also stimulate a bit more interest in a series that is increasingly one sided.
Either hire would, on balance, be a good thing for UB.
editorial note: The original article talked about a championship in 2014. It was talking about the 2014-2015 season. A reader sent us a note so we added "-2015" to make it clear.