TUSCALOOSA -- After the worst Southeastern Conference season in modern history and amid attempted NCAA wrongdoing, Alabama fired first-year baseball coach Greg Goff on Wednesday, the first coaching change in athletic director Greg Byrne’s tenure.
“We felt this was the best decision going forward for our baseball program, and that’s why we made the decision,” Byrne said Wednesday in his first public news conference since being named athletic director in March. “When you look at these situations when it comes to coaches and you decide what is the best long-term solution for the program. Not based off of the season or anything like that, it’s based off of the long-term health of the program.”
As first reported by The Tuscaloosa News late Tuesday night and later confirmed by The Anniston Star, Goff told a number of returning players during exit meetings their scholarship money would not be renewed next season. If that would have taken place, it is a direct violation of two NCAA bylaws the prohibit schools from rescinding or pulling scholarships.
NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124 states “institutions cannot revoke or reduce a scholarship because of an athlete’s ability, performance, physical or mental condition.” Bylaw 126.96.36.199.1 says an institution may not set forth an athletically related condition that would permit the institution to reduce or cancel a scholarship if the conditions are not satisfied.
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Asked directly if NCAA violations occurred, Byrne said there were none.
“The young men on our baseball team who have scholarships, their scholarships will be honored,” Byrne said.
Byrne fired Goff without cause, meaning he is owed the remainder of his base salary — $265,000 per year — for the next four years, totaling $1,060,000.
Hired by former Crimson Tide athletic director Bill Battle after a two-year resurrection of Louisiana Tech’s baseball program, Goff signed a five-year deal last June that paid him a total of $450,000, including talent fees.
Goff had previous head-coaching stops at Campbell and Montevallo, where he developed a knack for lackluster first seasons before revitalizing the program. At all three stops, Goff endured seasons under .500 before producing 40-win clubs.
He’ll get no such chance in Tuscaloosa, where Goff endured incessant social media criticism as the season spiraled into humiliation, which Byrne subtly addressed Wednesday.
“I think it’s really important as a program, as a university, as a family that whoever our next coach is that we’re patient through the process,” Byrne said. “We have to have stability in our coaching staffs going forward, that’s very important. This is very unique, but this is important going forward that we have that in mind in what we do.
As recently as last week, Byrne reaffirmed his faith in Goff, a man whom he did not hire.
“The important part is that you feel like you’re putting yourself in a position to compete for championships,” Byrne told The Anniston Star before his tee time at the Regions Tradition Pro-Am last Tuesday. “... I think what they’re doing from a building a foundation, from a recruiting standpoint, we’re putting ourselves in that position.”
Alabama then ended the season with an embarrassing series loss at Vanderbilt — where it was outscored 31-2 in the first two games — to ensure the worst Southeastern Conference season in modern history. Its 24 conference losses are a new program record and the 19 wins the fewest since 1980.
“I don’t want to get into specifics with the meeting or incidents of any kind,” Byrne said. “But we continue to evaluate just as we did throughout the season, as we ended the season, and we went into the last couple of days and felt this was the right decision for the long-term health of the program.”
Assistant coach Terry Rooney, a former LSU assistant and head coach at Central Florida, was named the program’s interim head coach. Byrne said “there were no discussions” with Rooney regarding his candidacy for the full-time position.
Byrne informed players of the decision at a 1 p.m. meeting at Sewell-Thomas Stadium, after which they were not permitted to speak to reporters.
“Unfortunately I’ve done this a few times, and it’s usually a similar response — there’s looks of concern and I hope they would be concerned,” Byrne said. “We’ve got a bunch of good young men on our team, and I told them we’d go out and get them the best baseball coach that we can.”