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Gillen Takes Buyout After Seven Years At Virginia

By Michael Arkush
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page D01

CHARLOTTESVILLE, March 14 -- Pete Gillen's seventh season as the men's basketball coach at the University of Virginia proved to be his last, as he and the school agreed Monday to a $2 million buyout of the remaining six years on his contract. The deal ended weeks of speculation that Gillen would not return.

The search for a successor is predicted to take four to six weeks.

Pete Gillen
Pete Gillen
The Cavaliers were 23-41 in ACC regular-season games during Pete Gillen's last four seasons. He was 118-93 over seven seasons, including 45-67 in ACC games. (Joel Richardson - The Washington Post)

"We're going to seek and hire the top coach available," Craig Littlepage, the school's athletic director, said at a late-afternoon news conference. "I'm confident that we're going to attract a coach that will help bring national prominence to our program."

Littlepage did not take any questions after the news conference, which lasted less than four minutes. With the opening of the 15,000-seat John Paul Jones Arena in the fall 2006, the school appears to need to hire a high-profile coach. George Washington's Karl Hobbs, Notre Dame's Mike Brey, Gonzaga's Mark Few and Golden State Warriors Coach Mike Montgomery are among those whose names have surfaced recently as possible replacements.

Gillen, 57, was hired in 1998 and signed a 10-year contract extension in 2001. In a news release issued by the school, Gillen expressed gratitude for the opportunity to coach the Cavaliers.

"I have said many times the University of Virginia is a special place, and I still feel that way," Gillen said. "I . . . feel it is in the best interest of all that I step aside at this time."

Gillen's status has been the subject of speculation since the beginning of the season. After Virginia won eight of its first nine games, including an upset of Arizona, then No. 10, in late November, he appeared to have a chance to secure his position. The Cavaliers spent five weeks ranked among the top 25.

But in January, everything began to crumble. Senior forward Jason Clark, the team's best defender, was declared academically ineligible. The Cavaliers lost their first five conference games before beating Clemson at home, 81-79.

Virginia won three conference games in a row in February, but then dropped its last five. The Cavaliers were eliminated in the ACC tournament quarterfinals by Duke, the eventual champion. They finished 14-15, 4-12 in the ACC, and missed the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive season. In Gillen's seven seasons, the Cavaliers went 118-93, but just 45-67 in the conference, and made one appearance in the NCAA tournament, in 2001.

"The team did not reach the goals we thought were achievable entering the 2004-05 season," Littlepage said in the news release.

Gillen had carefully steered away from discussing his future in recent weeks, though his comments after the loss to Duke on Friday night seemed revealing.

"The University of Virginia deserves better than the 14-15 we gave them this year, and I take the blame for that," he said then.

In the locker room moments later, several players spoke favorably about their coach. Outside University Hall on Monday, sophomore forward Gary Forbes added to the praise.

"He's a great coach," Forbes said. "I really admired his love for the game and how he wanted to win so bad."

Prior to taking the job in Charlottesville, Gillen coached at Xavier for nine years and Providence for four. He led Xavier to seven NCAA appearances, and finished with a 202-75 record. He was 72-53 with the Friars, including a trip to the NCAA final eight in 1997.

Gillen's dismissal has not changed the mind of one of Virginia's top recruits, DeMatha senior Mamadi Diane, according to a source close to the player. Diane, a 6-foot-6 guard, is averaging 13.5 points per game for the Stags, who captured the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship and City Title this season.

Diane received a call from a Virginia athletic department official late Sunday informing him of the decision. Diane, according to the source, is "disappointed" he will not get the opportunity to play for Gillen, but "has not wavered one bit" on his commitment.

Staff writer Tarik El-Bashir in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company