The Marquette men’s basketball team may have failed to make any postseason tournaments in 2014, but the program broke into the March headlines this week regardless. It was announced and confirmed on Friday that head coach Buzz Williams would be leaving the school to accept a contract at the helm of Virginia Tech. Williams released a public statement following a closed-meeting with players at the Al McGuire Center that afternoon thanking Marquette and their fans for the support during his six-year tenure.
Players at the private gathering reported that the head coach had told them that he had not planned on leaving Marquette until the offer from the Hokies came earlier this month. Interim athletic director at Marquette Bill Cords said that the organization was made aware of the deal prior to Friday, and had already begun the search for a replacement. Online, a number of names almost immediately surfaced as possible candidates for the job, including former UCLA coach Ben Howland and current Green Bay coach Brian Wardle.
Details of the Virginia Tech offer emerged fast once officials there and at Marquette confirmed the news. Williams will reportedly earn $18 million over seven-years with the Hokies. At Marquette, he was making about $3 million per season.
Williams had been a fixture at Marquette since 2007, when he served as an assistant for a season before taking over for the departing Tom Crean. He inherited a solid program from his predecessor, and did not miss a step in leading the Golden Eagles to their fourth consecutive 20-win season. In 2011, Williams led Marquette to a program best single-season record of 27-wins, and just a year later, claimed his first conference championship.
The 41-year old coach also managed five straight NCAA Tournament berths for the Golden Eagles during his time at the school. Back-to-back sweet 16 appearances in 2011 and 2012 were the highlight of his postseason success until the team reached the elite eight for the first time since 2003 last year.
Despite the progressive momentum over the past three seasons, Williams and Marquette fell flat in their first year as a member of the reconfigured Big East. The team finished a lowly sixth in the conference with losses to all three of the new-comers, Creighton, Xavier, and Butler, as well as a season-sweep at the hands of conference champions Villanova. Xavier dashed Marquette’s hopes of an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament with a victory in the first round of the Big East Tournament on March 13th. And to add insult to injury, the team failed to even make the National Invitation Tournament.
Out of conference, Marquette’s fortune was not improved. Starting the season at number 17, the Golden Eagles fell to number ten Ohio State in the third game of the year. By the time they faced Wisconsin on December 7th, the only other ranked opponent they would play outside of the Big East, they had fallen out of the top-25. Overall, Marquette finished the 2013 season with a 17-11 record.