March 17th, 2016 will live as a day of infamy in the eyes of many people around UW-Milwaukee, as it was the day Panthers’ men’s basketball coach Rob Jeter was surprisingly not retained after 11 seasons. Reporters, students and fans, not just from UWM or Milwaukee, but the college basketball world, scratched their heads at the decision following the Panthers 20-13 season. Despite the win-loss total, UWM Athletic Director Amanda Braun elected not to let the team enter a postseason tournament.
The most confused and even frustrated out of the masses are current and former members of the team, who voiced disapproval in the days following the decision.
Al Hanson, who was the team’s Second Director of Basketball Operations during the season and played for coach Jeter as a student at UW-Milwaukee was among those who were fired and in complete shock. He was caught off guard and is a little bitter with the gratuitous decision.
“I found out that morning walking into the office,” said Hanson. “I, along with everyone on the team, loved and respected him. He didn’t only teach me about the game of basketball, but life.”
It is still largely unknown why Coach Jeter was fired, as Braun only stated in a news conference that Jeter was not getting the program to “that level”.
In his 11 year tenure, Jeter worked under six ADs after being hired to replace Bruce Pearl, who led the team to their first and only Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament in 2005. In 2014, Jeter did the unthinkable when, after finishing in last place the year before, the Panthers, as a No. 5 seed, upset No. 1 seed, in-state rival, and overwhelming league favorite UW-Green Bay en route to winning the Horizon League Tournament and receiving a No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Jeter compiled a 185-170 overall record in his 11 seasons, registering five 20-win seasons and four postseason berths. After being banned from postseason play in the 2014-15 season for academic reasons, the team compiled a 3.1 grade-point average during the Fall 2015 term and had big non-conference victories against Wisconsin and Minnesota. It was Jeter’s first and only victory against his mentor, former Badgers’ coach Bo Ryan.
Molly Welter, a freshman kinesiology major who helped manage the team during the season, expressed similar remorse.
“At first, I was mad,” she said. “Why would this even happen? Then I started to think about it and Jeter held the team together. Players picked the college based on the coaching staff and program as a whole. Personally I can’t imagine what Milwaukee’s men’s team would be like without him. I thought not letting our guys have a postseason was a little bogus but I was literally shocked when I heard the news of the firing. I actually shed a tear or two.”
When asked about how the players reacted and the news about some of them thinking of transferring, Welter said they were upset but respectful.
“I’m proud of them for not retaliating,” she said. “That was their coach, they saw him more than they see their parents during the season. I don’t want any of the players to leave and I can’t imagine the team without any of them. If they want to leave and that’s’ what they think is in their best interest then they should. They came here as Jeter being one of their main reasons.”
Braun said an immediate, national search would take place for a new coach, and judging from the opinions of many around the university, the replacement will be held to the same, if not better, standards than Jeter.