Fed up by his antics on and off the court, Seton Hall fired basketball coach Bobby Gonzalez on Wednesday after a 19-win season.
The dismissal came roughly 12 hours after the coach known as “Gonzo” endured an 87-69 loss in the opening round of the NIT, a game in which Seton Hall forward Herb Pope was ejected for hitting Texas Tech player below the belt and Gonzalez picked up his seventh technical foul of the season.
By noon, Gonzo was gone.
“Performance and success are not measured solely by wins and losses, but also in the conduct of those associated with the program,” said Patrick Hobbs, the university law school dean who has been overseeing the athletic department since July.
“We have expectations as to how our coaches and players will conduct themselves, and they are expected to treat everyone they interact with, whether officials, the press or our students, with the utmost respect, maturity and professionalism. Those core expectations must be met.”
University president Monsignor Robert Sheeran informed Gonzalez of the decision around noon.
“I told him that I lost my confidence in his ability to coach and lead this program,” Sheeran said in a conference call. “I spoke with people on and off the campus and I made the decision. The decision was mine and it was in the best interests of Seton Hall University.”
The Pirates went 19-13 this season, including 9-9 in the Big East, both four-year highs for Gonzalez. However, he failed to get Seton Hall to the NCAA tournament, posting a 66-59 overall record and a 29-45 league mark.
“We respect the effort he put in,” Hobbs said. “He wanted to win. He wanted to be the right fit. But he’s a mercurial talent, a lightning rod. In the end, when you look at the totality of it, on the court, off the court, Coach Gonzalez was not the right fit for Seton Hall.”
Hobbs would not say whether Gonzalez was fired with cause. The coach was given a contract extension through the 2015 season in the fall.
Gonzalez was not immediately available for comment.
Sheeran said that Hobbs has been reviewing the basketball program for most of the year and that he asked him for a recommendation last week. Sheeran said he decided to fire Gonzalez at 9 a.m., adding the coach was very professional and calm when informed of the decision.
Villanova coach Jay Wright said Gonzalez is a good coach, but he also understands his quirks and intensity.
“He’s Gonzo and he is what he is,” Wright said. “And in our business, there’s not a lot of characters anymore because it’s so demanding and there’s a such a microscope on you. I’m not saying it’s good or bad. I’m saying it is what it is. Some people like it, some people don’t.”
The firing came two days after women’s coach Phyllis Mangina resigned after 25 years.
Hobbs wants to hire a coach who can be successful immediately in the Big East. Among the young coaches who might be considered for the job are Fran McCaffrey of Siena, Tom Pecora of Hofstra, Chris Mooney of Richmond and Duke assistant Chris Collins.
The volatile Gonzalez has had run-ins with other coaches and officials, threw forward Robert Mitchell off the team on Sunday after being criticized by the player, and also had players get in trouble on and off the court.
Mitchell was arrested on Tuesday and charged with entering a house in South Orange on Monday and robbing eight people at gunpoint, Essex County prosecutors said. He was charged with robbery, kidnapping and burglary. All three offenses carry 10- to 20-year maximum prison sentences.
Fans at the Prudential Center on Tuesday night started chanting “Robert Mitchell” as the game against Texas Tech started. Pope then was ejected early in that game for punching Darko Cohadarevic below the waist; Pope maintained that the Red Raiders player elbowed him in the head before he retaliated.
Gonzalez later picked up his final technical foul, and fan chants turned to “Fire Bobby.”
When asked after the game if he heard the chants and taunts, Gonzalez just said, “No.”
A week before this season started, transfer guard Keon Lawrence was involved in a traffic accident on the Garden State Parkway in which he was driving in the wrong direction, seriously injuring the driver of the other vehicle.
Lawrence was charged with assault by auto and driving with a suspended license, and was suspended for the first eight games of the season.
When asked to put the basketball season into perspective, Hobbs was blunt: “I would call it not a successful year.”
Players were informed of the firing, athletic director Joseph Quinlan said.
“They all spent considerable time with Coach Gonzalez and they have a bond that still exists,” Quinlan said. “It’s a little bit of a disruption in their lives.”
Gonzalez had a tough time recruiting within New Jersey, with only Paterson Catholic (current guard Jordan Theodore and incoming freshman Fuquan Edwin) sending recruits to Seton Hall.
“I had an unusual relationship with Coach Gonzalez,” longtime St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley said Wednesday. “There never really was a comfort zone.
“I had a comfort zone with Seton Hall, sending many players there in the past, but not recently. Whoever gets the job will personality-wise be different than Coach Gonzalez. I would consider sending our players there.”