DES MOINES - Drake athletic director Sandy Hatfield Clubb spent five years waiting for coach Mark Phelps to turn the Bulldogs into a Missouri Valley contender.
After yet another mediocre season, Hatfield Clubb decided it was time for a change.
Hatfield Clubb announced on Thursday that the school has fired Phelps, a week after the Bulldogs were knocked out of the Missouri Valley tournament by Creighton.
AP FILE PHOTO
Mark Phelps was let go as Drake’s men’s basketball coach Thursday after the Bulldogs failed to live up to expectations the past five seasons. Drake went 77-86 in Phelps’ five years at the helm, including a 37-53 mark in Missouri Valley Conference play.
"He has a strong work ethic. He's a man of integrity, and nobody worked harder the last five years," Hatfield Clubb said of Phelps. "A decision like this is never easy. But I believe a change in leadership is what is needed in order to create a sustained level of competitive excellence."
Phelps was hired to replace Keno Davis, who led the Bulldogs to the Valley title in 2008. But Phelps couldn't keep Drake near the top of the league standings.
Bulldogs star Rayvonte Rice transferred to Illinois before the season - highlighting a number of key player departures - and Drake stumbled to a 15-17 finish.
Phelps leaves Drake with a record of 77-86. The Bulldogs never posted 20 wins under Phelps and only twice finished above .500 overall.
Drake has always been one of the tougher jobs in the country, combining high academic standards with a spotty history in basketball. Phelps is just the latest in a long line of Drake coaches who failed to overcome those challenges.
Phelps was known as a strong recruiter for the Valley, but the program was also plagued by a slew of player departures the past five seasons.
"He brought strength and integrity. Terrific recruiting," Hatfield Clubb said. "We're at a point of transition now."
Phelps, who spent 12 seasons as an assistant under Herb Sendek at N.C. State and Arizona State, was hired to replace Davis in the spring of 2008 after the program's first NCAA tournament appearance in 37 years.
Davis, now the coach at Central Michigan, parlayed a spectacular one-year run that included The Associated Press Coach of the Year award into the job at Providence.
Many believed Davis's achievements in squeezing 28 wins out of the Bulldogs would prove to be fleeting. Those critics proved to be right.
Phelps's teams finished 7-11 in the Valley four times, save for a 9-9 record in 2011-12 behind Rice and Ben Simons last season.
"The 2007-08 team made it very exciting for Drake University and certainly brought some excitement to the institution, and we are striving to have that type of excitement ... on a regular basis," Hatfield Clubb said.
Drake showed flashes of improvement this season, beating league champion Creighton at home and winning at Indiana State. But the Bulldogs were very inconsistent as well, losing by 30 on the road at Northern Iowa and against the Bluejays.
Hatfield Clubb didn't go into too many details on what type of coach she's looking for to replace Phelps, though she did stress that the school has enough funding to pay whomever it feels is the best fit.
"The next coach will be a person of integrity, high character. Someone who has demonstrated a commitment to excellence, a focus on player development and someone who is willing to live the Bulldog way," Hatfield Clubb said. "Someone who has a commitment to high academic standards."