Desmond Oliver was fired as East Tennessee State’s head basketball coach on Friday, the university announced.
“When I did an evaluation of the program after the season was over, there were just a lot of factors,” ETSU Athletic Director Richard Sander said. “We came to the reality that we needed to go with a different leader. There was a lot of thought that went into it. The program is not meeting the expectations of the athletic department.”
Joe Hugley, an assistant coach on Oliver’s staff and a player on the Bucs’ last Southern Conference-championship team in 2020, will serve as interim coach while a national search is conducted.
Oliver just completed the second year of a five-year contract. His team went 12-20 this year, the first 20-loss season for ETSU in a decade. His two-year record was 27-37 and his teams were 0-2 in the SoCon tournament. The Bucs lost to Western Carolina 68-57 in the SoCon quarterfinals last week in what turned out to be Oliver’s last game.
Oliver’s contract has a buyout clause, which states he would be paid $400,000 if he were terminated between April 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023. His son, Dobyns-Bennett guard Dante Oliver, had signed to play for ETSU as part of next year’s recruiting class.
The former Tennessee assistant was hired in April of 2021 to replace Jason Shay.
“Clearly, Coach Oliver worked really hard, and he was very committed,” Sander said. “I appreciate what he’s done.”
Sander hired Steve Forbes, who led ETSU back to the status of one of the country’s top mid-major programs. Sander was in retirement when Oliver was hired while Scott Carter was athletic director. Sander recently regained his title as ETSU’s full-time athletic director after serving on an interim basis when Carter was let go.
Sander said he broke the news about Oliver to the ETSU players via Zoom since they were either on their way out for spring break or already gone.
“There wasn’t really too much of a reaction,” Sander said. “I felt pretty good about it. I had talked to players this week just to get a feel for where the program is, what their expectations were going forward.”
One name that has already popped up as a potential replacement for Oliver is B.J. McKie, who was on Forbes’ staff at ETSU and is on his current staff at Wake Forest. Last year, McKie was a candidate to become head coach at South Carolina, where he holds the career scoring record.
Sander said he hasn’t begun vetting potential replacements, but acknowledged that McKie would be a strong candidate.
“I tried not to get too far ahead of myself,” Sander said. “But I love B.J. He’s a terrific guy, clearly a good coach. He was great while he was here so you know B.J.’s name will almost certainly be one that we will vet.”