Grasso takes over for Whittenburg

NEW YORK -- The signs were pointing to another losing basketball season at Fordham so coach Dereck Whittenburg was fired just five games into his seventh season.

The player known for taking one of the most famous shots in NCAA tournament history wasn't able to match that type of success at Fordham. Whittenburg compiled a 69-112 record, including 1-4 this season.

"There was a lot of people who thought we should make a change last spring and they rode me pretty hard," athletic director Frank McLaughlin said Thursday. "I felt that with the strong recruiting class we had coming in, and with the right support, things could turn around. We had a favorable schedule. ... We should be better than 1-4 and we felt a change had to be made."

McLaughlin said Jared Grasso, an assistant on Whittenburg's staff the last four seasons, will take over for the remainder of the season.

The Rams host Bowling Green on Saturday night.

McLaughlin met with Whittenburg on Thursday and told him of the decision.

"I couldn't believe how gracious Dereck was," McLaughlin said. "All he asked was that we take care of the kids. He said he could handle himself, he wanted to make sure about the kids. I had tears in my eyes."

A message left on Whittenburg's cell phone was not returned.

There were reports Thursday that sophomore guard Jio Fontan had decided to transfer from Fordham after the fall semester ended.

"I think you could say he didn't understand what was going on," McLaughlin said of Fontan. "Jio and Dereck had their differences. Nobody knew about this. Jio was at the team meeting and we expect him to be at practice."

Whittenburg took the 40-foot shot that Lorenzo Charles grabbed and dunked at the buzzer to give North Carolina State and coach Jim Valvano the victory over Houston in the 1983 NCAA championship game. Whittenburg was selected MVP of that Final Four

His first head coaching job was at Wagner, where he compiled a 67-50 record in four seasons. He led the Seahawks to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 2003.

Whittenburg succeeded Bob Hill at Fordham. His only winning season was 2006-07, when the Rams went 18-12. They were 3-25 last season, including 1-15 in the Atlantic 10.

Fordham lost 68-44 at Manhattan last weekend in the schools' annual "Battle of the Bronx."

"From a purely basketball standpoint it was not a difficult decision. The record speaks for itself," McLaughlin said.