After four seasons of what many fans considered mediocre and unacceptable results, Ricardo Patton was informed today he will not return as Northern Illinois’ men’s basketball coach, the school announced in a news release.
Patton was fired with one year and $300,000 remaining on his contract after leading the Huskies to a 35-83 record in four seasons. The Huskies finished 9-21 this season and lost 74-54 at Bowling Green on Tuesday in the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament. His fourth consecutive 20-loss season came at Ball State on March 5 in NIU’s regular-season finale.
“I appreciate the hard work and dedication to Northern Illinois University and our men’s basketball program that Ricardo and his staff have shown over the past four years,” NIU AD Jeff Compher said in a news release. “The program has progressed academically under his leadership, and he and his staff have done a great job of becoming a part of this community and have been active members of our athletics department. We wish all of them the best in the future.”
“I’d like to thank Jeff Compher, [former NIU athletic director] Jim Phillips, [NIU] President [John] Peters and the entire Northern Illinois community for allowing me to be its men’s basketball coach for the past four years,” Patton said in a news release. “Although we have not won as many games as any of us would have liked, I do feel that we won in some other very significant areas in our men’s basketball program. My family and I have met some wonderful people during our four-year tenure here in the state of Illinois. We would like to wish the university and the community much success in the years to come.”
In a news release, NIU said it will use the services of Collegiate Sports Associates to coordinate its men’s basketball head coaching search. An NIU official confirmed Wednesday night to the Daily Chronicle that Patton will not be retained in another position within the athletic department.
The move will likely be celebrated by fans. Patton’s support among the fan base steadily declined the past four years. As the losses compiled, attendance became less. Many fans repeatedly called for Patton’s firing.
Compher made it clear before the season he expected more success this winter, saying improvement was a necessity. When it became apparent improvement would not come during NIU’s eight-game losing streak, Compher said he was holding all evaluations of the program until after the season.
Compher also said he was aware many fans were unhappy with the program’s results under Patton.
“I know that there is some discontentment in our fan base, sure,” Compher said in a one-on-one interview with the Daily Chronicle on Feb. 17. “… Obviously, they’re disappointed in the number of wins that we’ve had and those kind of things. Everybody wants to win more. I totally understand that.”
Patton quickly excused the lack of success in his early seasons to not having players to fit his system. In his fourth season, Patton said this group was undoubtedly his team.
Patton and his staff recruited each player on the Huskies’ roster. Compher’s demand for improvement didn’t seem to bother Patton, who was optimistic about his team’s chances before the season.
"This is taking longer than anyone would've liked, but I think the time is finally here," Patton said during NIU’s basketball media day in early November. "I think we finally got a nucleus together that's the right combination. So I don't go into this season feeling pressure about anything other than trying to put a good team on the floor."
But success never materialized. The Huskies lost 12 of their final 15 games this winter after losing 12 of their last 14 last season.
NIU players were aware of the pressure on their coach, but senior Jeremy Landers said before the season more blame for the lack of wins should be directed at players.
"Coach Patton takes it for us, but we're the ones out there playing," Landers said in early November. "We're the ones executing. It gives us that motivation (this season) because you don't want to see him taking all that for what we're doing."
Many people were expecting time to run out, not just the fans. Freshman Nate Rucker’s father, Nate, said in early February one of the concerns with his son choosing NIU was whether Patton would coach all four years.
“I was a little concerned about the rumblings of coach Patton and his job, how the team had been doing, fan support, all of that stuff,” Rucker’s father told the Daily Chronicle in early February. “It’s definitely a concern. You hear the rumblings, you read the blogs, you see all the things that are being said, you see the attendance.
“Common sense says there are problems there.”
Patton maintained a positive outlook until the very end. After NIU lost a home game 77-65 to Western Michigan on Feb. 15, Patton said he believed he could still turn the program around.
"Oh no, time's not running out. There's still a lot of basketball left," Patton said. "(The MAC) is still a one-bid league, so anything is still possible in the (MAC) tournament, even after the season. I don't think any of the teams in our league are playing for an at-large bid at this juncture."