After the sudden and unexpected retirement of four-year coach Jim Baron the Canisius College Golden Griffins have hired UT Chattonooga assistant and former University at Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherpoon to take over the program.
Witherspoon has an extensive coaching history in the area, and his name came up soon after the announcement. During Baron's press conference Canisius Director of Athletics Bill Maher was asked if the former UB Bulls coach would be a candidate for the opening with the Griffins. He answered that the Western New York native would certainly be considered if the interest was mutual.
"I think Reggie’s a great guy. He’s continued to stay in coaching. I enjoyed working with him at UB." He went on to say; "So Reggie, if there’s interest from Reggie, I’ll certainly talk to him about it and we’ll go from there."
Maher spent seven years at the University at Buffalo and served as the Bulls' interim athletic director from 2003-05. He was on staff when Witherspoon was hired as an interim coach in 1999 and when he was made the permanent coach not too long later, and of course was at UB when Witherspoon took the Bulls to the Mid-American Conference Championship game, after which Maher departed for Canisius.
At Buffalo Witherspoon inherited a team rocked by a coaching scandal and which would soon be the subject of NCAA sanctions. Shortly after UB came out of their sanctions Witherspoon made them one of the most competitive programs in the MAC.
The Bulls came to within a tip-in of the conference tournament title in 2004-2005 and would advance a second time to the conference title game in 2008-2009, falling to Akron. Witherspoon's post-probation record at UB was 173-140 and he took the Bulls to two CIT tournaments, a CBI, and earned an NIT bid.
After a disappointing 2012-2013 season Witherspoon was let go by UB Athletics Director Danny White. White, who was a little more than a year into his term at UB, opted to hire Bobby Hurley who would take the Bulls to the NCAA tournament for the first time two years later.
After being let go at Buffalo Witherspoon served one season as an assistant at Alabama under head coach Anthony Grant. When Grant was fired at Alabama Witherspoon was named as an assistant on Matt McCall's staff at UT-Chattanooga.
Last season the Mocs made the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years, giving Reggie his first-ever appearance in the Big Dance.
This hire could be a big PR victory for Canisius. Witherspoon became a fixture in Western New York, coaching high school, community college, and then at the Division I level. He was mostly successful and had a reputation as one of the nicer guys in the sport, a reputation that worked against White in the local media.
In many ways, Witherspoon's experience rebuilding Buffalo will serve him well at Canisius. Recruiting struggles, graduation, and Isaiah Gurley's transfer have left the Griffs with just nine scholarship players for next year's team. The oddly-timed retirement of Baron probably means that Witherspoon will have to find a couple of JUCO players to help add depth to the program, but at least they're not on NCAA probation.
We wish coach Witherspoon well -- not well enough to make the Griffs more relevant than the Bulls -- but well none the less.