Patton's Final Stand

Ricardo Patton stunned his players and members of the Buffs community Wednesday by announcing he will neither "seek nor accept" an extension to his current contract, which ends June 30, 2007. Patton said he will coach through this season at CU, then seek a coaching job elsewhere. Inside, details of his decision, reaction from players and AD Mike Bohn, and speculation on possible coach candidates.

• It was Colorado's annual Media Day on Wednesday. But what normally is a series of interviews with Patton and his players about the upcoming season became mostly a press conference about Patton's decision.

Patton is in the final year of his contract. Athleic director Mike Bohn made it clear he would wait until the end of the season before deciding to extend the contract or not.

Patton, going into his 11th full season as head coach at Colorado, said he made the decision in order to take the pressure off his players. His team includes eight true freshmen.

"When I hear players talking about playing to save my job, that should not be their focus and should not be the reason that they are here," Patton said. "The reason that they are here is to get a great education from what I think is a great academic institution, and to focus on basketball and their development as young men."

Freshman center Marc Van Burck said the players were looking forward to playing for Patton's job.

"We as the team were still under the impression we were going to have the chance to fight for Coach Patton's contract extension," Van Burck said. "I was kind of looking for the opportunity to prove everyone wrong."

But Van Burck said he understands and respects Patton's decision.

"Coach Patton is a very honorable man," he said. "He puts his team first. That's one of the things that we all respect about him. He said the only reason he would love to stay here is because of us."

Patton said it's his intention to stay in the coaching profession.

Player Reaction
• Patton called a meeting of his players early this morning. Most described the session as difficult. To a man, the members of the freshman class say they came to Colorado because of Patton.

"I was definitely taken aback this morning," said freshman point guard Kal Bay. "It was very emotional. It was a different kind of silence. No one was sure what to say.

"I think it is something that will bring us all together, though, bring us closer. And we'll continue to grow."

Fellow freshman Xavier Silas wanted to deal with the shock by getting out on the floor.

"My first thought was, we've got to play. Our first game is Nov. 2. I'm just ready to talk about upsetting some (opponents) this year instead of talking about that," he said. "We're here to play basketball."

Veteran Richard Roby said the team will need to "digest" the situation quickly and focus on the season.

"It is kind of hurtful when your coach leaves, but it is a part of life," said Roby, who admitted he and his teammates were "shocked and confused" when Patton told them of his decision. "You have a lot of relationships; sometimes they don't last, sometimes they do. But, you have to move on."

The final piece of the freshman class puzzle, guard James Inge, who signed a letter of intent in August just before the beginning of school, went through coaching changes in high school.

"It was a shock," Inge said. "I had heard the speculation about him not coming back next year, but I always thought he would. So it kind of hit me hard.

"But in high school, I had three different coaches. I'm kind of used to it. All we can do is get over it and go hard this season, and hopefully have his last season be his best one yet."

Stay or Go?
Anytime there's a head coaching change in college athletics, the possibility of player transfer is real. On Wednesday, just hours after learning they will play for Patton just this season, the players weren't thinking about whether they may want to transfer next year or not.

"I'm just focused on this season and focused on playing right now," Bay said. "He is the reason I chose to attend this university. It's definitely something that's tough for me to swallow right now. But I think we're all focused in on this year right now. Today's practice. We'll move on from there. Later on we'll talk and think about things."

Freshman Jeremy Williams had a similar reaction to questions about the future.

"I'm not focused on whether or not I would go," Williams said. "I am focused on the season. Being ranked so low we already have a lot on our back and that's the main focus right now."

Silas looks at the situation as a test.

"If we can stay together through this, we can stay together through anything," Silas said. "This is just a test of character right now."

Van Burck indicated that while he is a big fan of Patton's he came to Boulder for the university, too.

"My thought now is to stay at the University of Colorado," Van Burck said. "This is the school that I chose to come to. A coaching change is a big deal, but coaches always change."

Missed Mike
• Patton tried and failed to reach his boss, Mike Bohn, prior to the press conference. That made for an awkward situation. Many people knew of Patton's decision before Bohn did, and certainly it had hit the radio airwaves before Bohn had had the chance to speak with Patton.

Bohn and Patton finally met in the middle of the afternoon. Then Bohn met with reporters. He admitted he was unprepared for Patton's decision.

"This announcement today is a big surprise to me," Bohn said. "And I'm really disappointed in many ways, just based on the timing. And more importantly the communication that Coach Patton and I have had in recent weeks when we've had weekly meetings that had been constructive and positive."

Speculation that after learning of Patton's decision Bohn would fire Patton immediatily ran rampant on radio airwaves. But Bohn said that won't be the case.

As would be expected, Bohn stressed that supporting the CU basketball players through this time is the highest goal. He met with them Wednesday afternoon.

"Our support for them is unconditional, and we're going to continue to do everything we can to help them be successful both on and off the court," he said.

Bohn said the biggest challenge immediately will be in creating fan support for the Buffs this year. Some 4,200 student season tickets have been sold, so that's a good start. It remains to be seen if fan interest will wane, pick up or stay the same with Patton's announcement.

Bohn said he didn't yet know when the AD will begin a search for Patton's replacement, but you can bet it will be sooner rather than later. Bohn said he thinks there will be great interest in the position and that the head men's basketball coach at CU is "a higher profile job than some people give it credit for."

The 10 Point Plan Bohn and staffers had been working on to improve the basketball programs is finished, he said. But he had been waiting to make it public until funding was in place. Some of the improvements include facilities, basketball operations infrastructure and travel arrangements.

"This is an opportunity for us to escalate the search for funding," Bohn said.

Recruits?
• Patton had secured verbal commitments from three players for the 2007 class. Early signing period is Nov. 8-15 and all three were expected to sign then. Patton said he had been upfront about his tenuous situation at CU during their recruiting process, and said Wednesday he expected they would sign with the Buffs.

Of course, that will be up to the three players, Stephen Franklin, Levi Knutson and Caleb Patterson, and their parents.

Members of the athletic department staff cannot contact the recruits, but can accept phone calls from the recruits. Bohn indicated if contacted him, he will let them know he wants them on board.

"We'll stay on top of recruiting," Bohn said.

Who's Next?
• Though it was too soon to talk about a coaching search timetable, Bohn said he would likely include outside parties in the search process in order to insure confidentiality.

Speculation about who the next Buffs coach will be is going to heat up in the coming weeks.

I'll throw out five names:

P.J. Carlesimo. The San Antonio Spurs assistant was successful at Seton Hall and was heavily involved in U.S.A. Basketball in the early 1990s, when CU special assistant Tom McGrath was with the U.S.A. program. Connect the dots.

Mike Dunlap. He turned Metro State (in Denver) into a Division II power before become an assistant for the Nuggets this year. He's turned down out-of-state job offers in the past because he and his family love Colorado.

Mike Montgomery. He won at Stanford, he should be able to find success at what some people want to call "the Stanford of the Rockies."

Jeff Bzdelik. The former Nuggets head coach has fared better than expected up the road at Air Force.

Wayne Morgan. Recruiting violations got him in trouble in Ames, but the former Iowa State coach may deserve a second chance.


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