KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Buzz Peterson was fired as Tennessee's
basketball coach after the Volunteers failed to make the NCAA
tournament during his four years at the school.
The Vols finished 14-17 overall and 6-10 in the Southeastern
Conference this season after losing to Kentucky in the second round
of the league tournament. It was Peterson's second losing season in
Knoxville, leaving him with a 61-59 record in his four years.
"Buzz has many of the characteristics we have looked for in a
coach, but we were found lacking in the area of wins and losses in
a business that measures its success according to such
parameters," athletic director Mike Hamilton said at a news
Hamilton informed Peterson of his decision Sunday evening.
Peterson seemed somewhat surprised but handled the news in a
"first-class" manner, Hamilton said. Assistant coach Chuck Benson
was asked to manage basketball operations in the absence of a head
Peterson did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
With the return of every starter from last year, Tennessee hoped
to reach the NCAAs for the first time under Peterson this season.
Peterson, whose contract is worth $769,500 a year and runs
through the 2008-09 season, was the fourth coach at Tennessee since
Don DeVoe was fired in 1989.
Peterson, 41, was hired in April 2001 to replace Jerry Green,
who was ousted after taking the Vols to the NCAA tournament four
straight seasons. The Peterson buyout will cost Tennessee nearly $1.4
million, and the university still owes Green a final payment of his
buyout next January.
Initially, there was excitement around the prospect of
"Buzzball" taking off under a coach embraced by the fans.
Peterson met with Hamilton and university president John
Petersen on Feb. 28, and Hamilton said then he would announce a
decision on the coach after the season.
In the following weeks, Hamilton was contacted by Peterson
supporters, including former star Tennessee athletes Peyton Manning
and Todd Helton, Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, North Carolina coach
Roy Williams and Peterson's college coach, Dean Smith.
Football coach Phillip Fulmer said he spoke with Peterson on
"Everybody in this profession knows how volatile it can be and
Buzz certainly understood that," Fulmer said.
Hamilton declined to specify a timetable for making a hire,
saying the search will take as long as needed to find the right
Peterson came to Tennessee after one season at Tulsa, where he
went 26-11 and won the NIT. He spent four seasons at Appalachian
State before Tulsa and took the Mountaineers to the NCAA tournament
in 2000 and was twice honored as the Southern Conference coach of
the year twice.
A native of nearby Asheville, N.C., Peterson played on North
Carolina's 1982 national championship team with Michael Jordan.
Peterson's father, Bob, is a graduate of Tennessee and often took
his son to Knoxville to watch games.
Peterson, a well-liked personality off the court, has said he
enjoyed coaching at Tennessee and believed the Vols can win
championships. But the Vols did not even receive a bid to the NIT
this season after ending the past two years with losses in the
first round of the NIT.
"It's disappointing," Peterson said after the 76-62 loss to
Kentucky at the SEC tournament. "It doesn't meet my standards at
all. I've been in winning programs, where we competed for
Tennessee loses two senior starters from this year's team --
guard Scooter McFadgon and center Brandon Crump. Next season the
Vols will return point guard C.J. Watson for his final year and
guard Chris Lofton, who set the SEC mark this season for the most
3-pointers scored by a freshman.