EDINBURG — After four years, 39 wins and 89 losses, UTPA decided it wanted someone different at the head of its basketball ladder.
The school announced Monday that it will not renew the contract of men’s basketball coach Ryan Marks following its expiration at the end of March.
Athletic Director Chris King, speaking at a news conference on campus, didn’t go into an enormous amount of detail about the move, instead simply stating he thought it was time for a change.
King said the decision was his and his alone, though he ran it through UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen first.
“I felt it was time for new leadership,” King said. “I felt like we needed to go in a different direction.”
The Broncs, coming off a 16-16 season this year — their first at or above the .500 mark in five years— lost to Chicago State last Friday in the Great West Conference tournament.
That night, King said he went back to his hotel room and “agonized” over the decision. On Saturday, he texted Marks and women’s basketball coach Denny Downing, who was also let go, to let them know he wanted to talk with them Monday.
Marks, who is from Chicago, was planning on staying in town, then going to Hutchinson, Kan. for the NJCAA Men's Division I tournament. Instead, he came back to Edinburg, only to be told he and the school were parting ways.
“If you look on the surface, our body of work on the court, what our kids have done academically, in my mind it does seem like a bit of an odd decision,” Marks said. “But in fairness, Chris King has been a very strong willed AD, he’s come in here with an agenda, he’s got us into the WAC, as well as Dr. Nelsen. They have a vision for where they want to go.”
And where university wants to go, now, is with a new coach.
King was hired after Marks. They were both born into the GWC, an unattractive conference without an automatic qualification for the NCAA Tournament. After some hiccups along the way, UTPA got into the Western Athletic Conference last December, and starting next year, can compete for the NCAAs.
The school wants the coach who leads them there to have a different personality than Marks did.
“Someone’s who’s a CEO of the program, someone’s who’s the right fit for this department, this university as well as this community,” King said. “It’s important to me that we find someone that has pride in representing UTPA.”
King is particular, organized, essentially a “Type A” personality. Marks, more laid back and less controlling, is the opposite.
“He and I have demonstrably different personalities,” Marks said.
King said the search, for both a men’s and women’s coach, will begin immediately. He said he has a shortlist of candidates already in mind, and hopes to have a decision around the time of the Final Four.
The school, which is paying Marks $91,000 this year, figures to bump up that salary substantially now that it is in a real conference.
“We will pay market value with the Western Athletic Conference,” King said.
The team improved in essentially every area under Marks. It increased its win total (10 in 2008-09 to 16 this season), it increased its GPA (by nearly a full point), it is no longer facing any NCAA sanctions.
Ultimately, the decision to make a change appears to be more about reasons off the court than on it. At least that’s what the now-old coach thinks.
“They know what we accomplished on the basketball court. Pretty extraordinary given where we were four years ago,” Marks said. “I have too much respect for (King and Nelsen) to think they would have made the decision based on (wins and losses), to let us go based on basketball performance certainly would be foolishness.”
Matt Sosnick, an agent who mostly represents professional baseball players and acts as an adviser to Marks, had other ideas.
Admittedly angry about the news, Sosnick put the blame for the decision directly on the shoulders of King, who he was not a particularly big fan of.
“It was obvious from the beginning that the person making the decisions was insecure enough and lacked the self esteem to surround himself with people that were bright,” Sosnick said.
Sosnick does not take any money from Marks and doesn’t represent him in an official capacity. He referenced the fact that Marks would do things like give the $8,000 he was paid by ESPN (to write a monthly column on coaching at a low-major school) to the athletic department.
To him that showed quite the commitment to his school. But in turn, Sosnick didn’t feel King, who openly campaigned for the AD job at Montana last summer, acted accordingly.
“He talked to Ryan and treated Ryan with a lot of disrespect,” Sosnick said. “This is a bully, Chris is a bully. He treats all the coaches the same.”
King declined to comment on what Sosnick said.
Downing, who went 51-68 in his four years at UTPA, said he was stunned by the news.
“This was kind of shocking to me really,” Downing said. “I’m very proud of the job that I’ve done.”
Downing said he played fewer regular season games (27, not the allowed 29), more guarantee games and more games in Texas to help UTPA financially. He said he had the highest winning percentage of any coach on campus.
But he was in good spirits Monday, partially due to the fact that he thinks he has one year left on his deal.
“I’m not concerned because they owe me a year,” Downing said.
Downing said after his first season, he was called into King’s office and was given a rollover on his initial 4-year contract. It was nothing official, nothing was signed, nothing was put in writing. It was a gentleman’s agreement.
Marks claimed the same thing happened to him. King denied it, instead saying that both contracts expire at the end of March.
“He’s a liar,” Downing said of King.
In the interim, Tim Anderson will run the men’s team and LaToya Howell will run the women’s.
Todd Orodenker covers UTPA Athletics for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4431 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.