Blaine Taylor helped to resurrect the basketball program at Old Dominion and became the winningest coach in the school’s history but today he leaves the school in another mess as he was fired today by Athletic Director Wood Selig. It’s a very sad day for fans of the program as Taylor brought a decade plus of memories and had his fingerprints all over every success that was enjoyed. Selig gave a very brief description as to why he was fired without going into to much detail but trust me it was warranted.
Taylor intended on building a program that would stand the test of time and he was well on his way, until he decided it was no longer his priority. Compiling 239 wins in 12 seasons and several trips to the NCAA Tournament was not enough to survive a 2-20 season but more importantly conduct issues that may never be fully explained. I am aware of many of these but it’s just not fruitful in trashing Taylor, the deeper that one digs into the situation the more disappointing it is. Ultimately Selig and Old Dominion made the correct choice, the choice that they wanted to make quite some time ago but didn’t have the confidence in.
Personally I admire what Blaine Taylor did for this program, I have had many great moments following this team. Each time Taylor led ODU to a CAA Tournament Championship I enjoyed being on the floor with the players and the speeches that Taylor would give. I had the benefit of following the team down to New Orleans for what was a memorable few days that I will never forget and the trip the following year to the Verizon Center for what might have been against Butler. As a season ticket holder it’s been a real blessing to enjoy the teams he fielded at home and the type of programs that he brought into the Ted Constant Center.
It was a long run and many things in my life changed during that decade plus span, many great things and ODU basketball was always providing a great way to get through the winter months.
Taylor arrived at ODU from Stanford as part of Mike Montgomery’s staff and he was a builder since day one. He wasn’t ever going for the quick fix, instead he literally built the program from the ground up. I remember during coaches shows he would always temper expectations because he didn’t want to be on the other end of an angry fan base. Taylor arrived and flourished as a very funny man with great perspective that absolutely understood how to bring ODU to the next level.
Failing to elevate ODU to the next rung may have played a large role in his separation with the school. Everyone knows about George Mason and VCU’s final four runs and both of those teams earned every bit of those accolades but ODU during that span was every bit if not more the consistent force within the conference. Sustained achievement was one thing but seeing your peers reach national prominence, even if some of that was short lived was a game changer.
The 2009-2010 season may have been the last time that things were on the upswing with the program. The Monarchs had a very talented, largely homegrown team of redshirts and cruised to the conference tournament championship in a pretty competitive year. ODU drew Notre Dame as a 6/11 underdog and didn’t have much problem defeating the Fighting Irish as they packed into a zone and rebounded nearly every shot attempt. It was considered a well coached game and a huge moment for the basketball program and a date with Baylor for a Sweet 16 appearance. Against Baylor the Monarchs dug themselves into a deep hole but rallied back furiously in the second half to take a lead against the 3 seed only to bow out late in the game. The draw was favorable for Old Dominion possibly reaching the Elite 8 and facing Duke and Taylor’s post game press conference was one for the ages, he was absolutely not himself, distraught and left wondering what might have been.
After the season he met with Clemson about their vacancy but did not get that job, it started to become known that he was looking at greener pastures. Taylor has always contended that if a few choice Pac-10 schools were to open up that he would leave but Clemson rubbed a few the wrong way. One other interesting development is that the man who hired Taylor, Jim Jarret was retiring and Wood Selig was beginning to transition to becoming the new Athletic Director.
The following year ODU had even a better team and won both CAA regular season and conference championships. That team led the nation in rebound differential and featured a senior class full of both 5th year and local players that were lightly recruited out of high school but developed the Blaine Taylor way. ODU received another favorable draw and many pundits were picking them to go deep in the tournament. If you don’t know by now, Matt Howard tapped in a shot at the buzzer of a classic game and Butler went all the way to the National Title game. Taylor was nowhere near as emotional after this game.
After this game Taylor began flirting with other schools again, this time Wyoming flew into town. While Taylor had one foot in the water his archrival VCU was busy going on a historic Final Four run by winning five games and elevating their program above all he had accomplished. Taylor ultimately won a new contract from Selig but this represented the beginning of the end as recruiting went downhill. Taylor never brought in big name recruits to ODU but he always had at least a couple in the class that he would develop into really good players by the time they were upperclassmen. After the 2010-2011 season it appeared recruiting became less of a priority.
Fast forward to today and the team is 2-20 amidst a season of really bizarre happenings. There was that one talked about coaches show appearance in which he seemed to be what everyone thinks he was. There have been rumors locally that were starting to run rampant about other instances and the George Mason game yesterday may have been the final straw. Taylor was going through the motions and arguably not capable of coaching a basketball game. During a beatdown by one of his biggest rivals at home he basically stood there and took it. Not one timeout was called, only a few kids on the team were giving 100 percent effort and he was booed out of the tunnel.
Where there is smoke there is fire and apparently here there is too much of that going on. This is one of the younger teams in college basketball and he’s not doing an effective job of leading the players, students or fan base through these troubling times. Yes he has built up a ton of equity but that only allowed this to last for this long, any other coach would have been fired at least a month ago. ODU didn’t want to fire him, they had no choice and are now left scrambling to keep recruits and retain current players going forward. Taylor slept on the program for a couple of years but was beginning to get it back together and then fell asleep again. There is real talent on this team, not 2-20 and more talent coming in.
He wasn’t fired because he was 2-20, he was fired because of how he got to 2-20 and how he’s choosing to deal with 2-20. Selig must have enough of cause to void the final year of Taylor’s contract which was pretty lucrative, either that or he’s willing to eat nearly 1 million dollars to get the ship sailing in the right direction.
In closing Taylor should be most remembered for the impact that he made on many of the kids that entered his program with little fanfare and emerged as men. Guys like Frank Hassell, Darius James, Ben Finney, Johnathan Adams and Kent Bazemore.
Here’s a special quote from Bazemore:
I never hesitate to credit Blaine Taylor on my success after college basketball. Want to talk about a guy… instagr.am/p/VW_jRaSX8e/
— Kent Bazemore (@KentBazemore20) February 5, 2013
Once again it’s a sad day for ODU fans. I know I speak for most of the fan base in wishing that Blaine Taylor lands on his feet and gets back into coaching one day, I know I will be pulling for him.