The University of Kansas yesterday fired its athletic director, Al Bohl, in a move viewed by many as an effort to keep the school's basketball coach at the expense of its athletic director. The firing comes amid increased speculation that Coach Roy Williams, who has clashed with Bohl repeatedly since Bohl came to the school two years ago, was considering leaving Kansas to coach North Carolina.
Bohl was fired by Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway, who said at an afternoon news conference that the decision was months in the making and based on conversations with coaches, other athletic department staff members, alumni and donors.
"On the basis of these conversations and my own evaluation of the situation, I came to the conclusion a change of leadership was needed at this time," Hemenway said, adding that he made the decision before the end of the basketball season.
Williams, who has led Kansas to 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments, coached the Jayhawks to the NCAA title game Monday, where they lost to Syracuse. He is a graduate of North Carolina, however, and published reports have said he is the Tar Heels' first choice for their vacant coaching job.
Bohl, during in an emotional impromptu news conference outside his Lawrence, Kan., home after the school announced his firing, put the blame for his firing squarely at Williams's feet.
"I understand the realties of the athletics' pyramid of popularity," said Bohl, 55. "I believe the KU basketball coach had the power to hold his athletic director in his hand like a dove. And he had the choice to either crush me with his power of influence or let me fly with my vision for a better total program. He chose to crush me."
Hemenway denied during the school's news conference that Williams maneuvered to persuade school officials to remove Bohl.
"[Williams has] never once said to me that if Al doesn't go then I will go," Hemenway said. "This is not a Roy versus Al decision. . . . There have been many, many reasons that have gone into this decision."
Moments after Hemenway announced Bohl's departure and appointed Drue Jennings, the former chief executive of Kansas City Power & Light, as interim athletic director, he shifted to talking about Williams.
"The university of Kansas and Allen Fieldhouse have been home to Roy Williams and his basketball family for the past 15 years," Hemenway said. "Yesterday's reception at the [Allen] Fieldhouse made it clear how fans feel about Roy Williams.
"We will do whatever we can to encourage him to remain at KU as head men's basketball coach."
The firing comes as North Carolina's pursuit of Williams apparently is intensifying.
Hemenway said North Carolina Athletic Director Dick Baddour contacted him yesterday about speaking with Williams. "It's a little hard to say if it was asking permission or if it was notification, but they said that they wanted to talk to Roy, and I was not surprised that they called," Hemenway said.
Williams told reporters that he had not yet been offered the job at North Carolina. But according to published stories, the school will soon give Williams the right of first refusal. Williams turned down an offer from North Carolina three years ago. Matt Doherty was hired instead but he was let go last week by the Tar Heels.
Newspapers in Kansas have reported that Williams has held a grudge against Bohl for firing the Jayhawks' former football coach, Terry Allen, a close friend of Williams.
Allen accumulated a 20-33 mark at Kansas in four years but what irked Williams was that Bohl fired Allen with two games remaining in the 2001 season.
Phone calls to Allen were not returned last night.
Williams has been outspoken against the practice of firing coaches in midseason.
"And then it happens at my very own school," Williams said at the time. "How embarrassing."
Bohl said after it became public that Williams objected to the manner in which Allen was fired that he was hired to fix the woes of the football program.
He suggested that Williams should worry about basketball and leave the rest of the athletic department to him.
But Bohl may have underestimated Williams's clout in Kansas. Bohl was booed during a pep rally at the Final Four in New Orleans last week. Reports had him at odds with others in the athletic department as well.
"Despite what might have been reported, I have an outstanding relationship with [Kansas football coach] Mark Mangino and was looking forward to covering his backside and helping him build a football program," declared Bohl. Under Mangino, the Jayhawks were 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the Big 12's North Division in 2002.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.