Iowa fires Lickliter after 22-loss season

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa Hawkeyes athletic director Gary Barta saw the Hawkeyes rack up loss after loss in an often half-empty arena and decided he'd seen enough.

Even though coach Todd Lickliter was at Iowa for only three seasons, Barta felt he couldn't afford to bring him back for a fourth.

The Hawkeyes fired Lickliter on Monday, ending a brief and disappointing tenure that included three losing seasons in a row and a parade of players leaving the once-proud program. Barta cited Iowa's slumping record, lagging attendance and dwindling revenue from ticket sales and contributions.

The 54-year-old Lickliter had four years left on a seven-year contract that paid him $1.2 million a year. Barta said the Hawkeyes will pay Lickliter roughly $2.4 million for the remainder of the contract.

Lickliter was not at the news conference and not available for comment.

"If you take a look at our competitive record the past three years, it has not been improving. It still continues to be below where we would expect," Barta said. "Our attendance and season-ticket sales have continued to go down. This not something that started three years ago, but in the past three years it has continued to go down dramatically."

Barta said there will be no timeline on hiring a new coach, though he hopes to do it quickly. Barta said Iowa's next coach will likely have head coaching experience, but wouldn't rule out hiring a top assistant to take over a team that finished the season 10-22.

In all, Lickliter was 38-58 with Iowa -- a stint marred by a series of player departures.

The big exodus came last spring when four players transferred, and sophomore guard Anthony Tucker left last month following a pair of alcohol-related suspensions and a third for academic problems.

Lickliter spent six seasons at Butler before coming to Iowa to succeed Steve Alford, who left for New Mexico in the spring of 2007. Lickliter led the Bulldogs to a 29-7 mark and the NCAA regional semifinals in 2007 and was named the Division I Coach of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

But Lickliter could never get the Hawkeyes moving in the right direction.

Iowa finished 13-19 in 2007-08, Lickliter's first season, but that was expected to be a rebuilding year after Alford's departure. Iowa improved to 15-17 in 2008-09, despite losing point guard Tony Freeman to transfer, but key contributors Jake Kelly and Jeff Peterson and reserves Jermain Davis and David Palmer all left following the season.

The Hawkeyes were forced to start from scratch yet again in 2009-10. Their starting lineup featured four underclassmen for most of the season -- including true freshman point guard Cully Payne -- and the results were predictable.

Iowa lost to the likes of Texas-San Antonio and Duquesne at home and finished just 4-14 in the Big Ten. Though the Hawkeyes seemed to be improving in the later half of the year, they finished the regular season with a 27-point loss at Wisconsin and an 88-53 drubbing at Minnesota.

Though Iowa lost more than 20 games for the first time, Lickliter's job seemed safe until last week's conference tournament. After the loss to Michigan, Barta issued a statement that praised the players but did not mention Lickliter.

Off the court, Lickliter had a health scare in early December. He went to the hospital because of headaches, and tests revealed the beginning of a tear in Lickliter's carotid artery, which supplies blood to the brain. Doctors added a stent the next day, and Lickliter missed three games while recovering.

Iowa has seen its attendance drop in recent years -- a troubling sign for a program used to packed houses. The Hawkeyes, who routinely had near-capacity crowds during the Tom Davis era in the late 1980s and '90s, drew just 9,550 fans per home game this season. The crowds often seemed a lot smaller than that.

The challenge for Barta is to find a coach who can energize the fan base, convince the current players and the incoming recruits to stick around, and start building a program that can once again compete for Big Ten titles and consistently reach the NCAA tournament.

"Blame some of it on me. Blame some of it on Todd. Dumb luck, whatever it is," Barta said of Lickliter's tenure. "I just felt like all those three things -- the record, the overall record, the competitiveness or lack thereof, the deep hole I think we've dug in attendance and financially. I just made the decision that we weren't prepared to go from year three to year four and take those things on."