Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey led his team to a Big South championship and an NCAA tournament appearance this season, and even though they lost in the first round, it was a successful campaign for the Eagles. As the college basketball coaching rodeo whirls to life and bushels of schools look for new faces to lead their programs, a frequent hiring pattern you’ll see is the mid-major coach poached by a larger program.
On Tuesday, Kelsey agreed to coach the UMass Minutemen and leave Winthrop. UMass isn’t, say, an illustrious title factory like Kentucky, but it is a bigger deal than Winthrop and they were in the market for a new coach after firing Derek Kellogg. He released a statement saying, “I look forward to the challenge of making UMass a major factor on the national level once again.” Apparently, he wasn’t looking forward to it that much, because he decided not to take the job at the last minute today. Instead, he’ll be going back to Winthrop.
As MassLive reported this evening, Kelsey was scheduled to show up for a 4 p.m. press conference in Amherst, but he called athletic director Ryan Bamford about 35 minutes before the press conference and told him that he’d changed his mind and would not be accepting the job. He asked to be released from his contract, which would reportedly have paid him $800,000 per year for five years. This left the school left to deal with what sounds like a very awkward press conference:
It was a strange scene — some media and boosters were inside, visible through the practice facility’s glass doors, while others waited to be allowed in. Eventually the rest of the media was allowed to enter, but moments later, the school cancelled the presser, offering no comment as to why it was cancelled, or whether Kelsey was even still the coach.
Kelsey apparently hosted a group dinner with UMass players last night and was scheduled to meet one-on-one with them over the course of the week. He and Bamford insisted that Kelsey’s choice was over “personal reasons.” Shortly after news broke that he would be ditching UMass at the altar, he confirmed that he would be staying at Winthrop.
Not only is UMass in a shitty situation here, Kelsey’s in a weird place due to the $1 million buyout clause in his contract that he would have to pay if he were to accept another job in his first two years with UMass. Bamford confirmed that he had released Kelsey from his deal, but he said the school was still exploring what would happen with regards to Kelsey’s buyout. When he asked how much the university would receive, he stressed that they had just found out that Kelsey was leaving, but they expected to get something back:
“I don’t know,” he said. I can’t confirm. I think by legal agreement, yes, but can’t confirm that we will or when.”