We’ll never know if Ryan Marks could have handled the job of ushering in a new era of men’s basketball at UTPA.
But, Marks deserved to find out.
Instead, Marks is looking for work after UTPA on Monday decided not to renew his contract.
(They fired him.)
That leaves the Broncs searching for a new coach for next season when it will become a member of the Western Athletic Conference. In UTPA news release, Broncs athletic director Chris King said of his decision to let go of Marks: “The decision comes after a thorough assessment of our current program, and my expectations for the future.”
In other words, King didn’t think he could do the job. King didn’t hire Marks so there was no sense of loyalty there. Yes, even in the Land of the Lost, NCAA Division I basketball is cutthroat.
Marks found that out the hard way Monday. I have no idea how good a coach Marks is. He, like several of his predecessors, had the impossible task of trying to make a low-end independent program competitive.
And, like many of his predecessors, they failed.
With a meager budget, the Broncs often served as sacrificial lambs playing against of the country’s top programs in the name of guaranteed purses in order to generate money for the entire UTPA athletic program. Because most of these games occurred at the start of the season, the Broncs were behind the 8-ball with a poor record before midseason. And, by then, no one cared. Attendance suffered as a result. A program that once boasted regular crowds in the 3,000-range, had been whittled to a couple of hundred on any given night.
That wasn’t Marks’ fault. The UTPA athletics’ program has been on a steady decline since the 1990s when they spent virtually the entire decade on NCAA probation. Things didn’t get better when they were booted from the Sun Belt Conference in 1998.
Just to give the program some semblance of legitimacy, UTPA competed in something called the Great West Conference, which actually wasn’t a real conference because it had no NCAA Tournament automatic qualifier. Plus, it really wasn’t that great. A good case for it being the worst conference ever associated with NCAA Division I basketball could be made. The Broncs’ association with the Great West Conference couldn’t have been a good sell with recruits. And it wasn’t. I don’t think the Broncs fought with too many other Division I programs for most of the players on their roster.
Despite these challenges, Marks guided the Broncs through this muddled mess of ridiculousness for the last four seasons. Granted, he did not have the greatest record. Marks’ Broncs won a combined 23 games in his first three seasons. This past season, the Broncs went 16-16. Overall, he was 39-89 at UTPA.
The program showed improvement this season. He should have been given the opportunity to try to build on that now that he has a legitimate conference to pitch to recruits.
Instead, they are looking elsewhere for that person.
As far as UTPA has fallen, they do have the potential to bring in a good coach to resurrect this program. Former Bronc coaches include Abe Lemons and Lon Kruger, who became the first coach in NCAA Division I history to lead five different schools to the tournament when his Oklahoma Sooners received an at-large bid on Sunday.
Maybe there’s a hotshot assistant at a major program that knows how big-time basketball works and is willing to give it a go here in Broncland. It has happened before. In 1997, Delray Brooks made his way to the Valley as a Rick Pitino protégé. Brooks came to Edinburg from Kentucky and an assistant on the Wildcats’ national championship season in 1995-96. He was run out of town after two seasons after he charged with stealing money that was supposed to go to the athletic department.
But, we shouldn’t be talking about this in the first place. Marks did the dirty work at UTPA. He doesn’t even get to reap the reward.