Nebraska fires coach Doc Sadler

Updated: March 9, 2012, 8:12 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Nebraska fired coach Doc Sadler on Friday after the team he expected to be his best in his six years at the school posted the program's lowest win total since 2003.

Sadler, who just finished his sixth season with the Cornhuskers and first in the Big Ten, had signed a two-year contract extension last year and said he was "totally surprised" by the school's decision.

Sadler
Sadler

"It didn't end the way I wanted it to, but you roll your sleeves up and move on," Sadler told ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil.

Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said the program had lost momentum.

"I've decided to make a change in the basketball program," Osborne said. "I've had to do some difficult things over my lifetime. This may be as difficult as any of them. Doc is a good man, an honorable man and I consider him a good friend. I thought it was wise at this point to make a change."

Sadler last spring signed a contract extension through 2015-16 and his salary was $900,000 a year. His contract calls for him to be paid as much as $66,667 a month until he finds another job -- up to a total of $3.4 million.

Injuries to big men Andre Almeida and Jorge Brian Diaz, as well as freshman guard Corey Hilliard, hampered his team this season, when the Cornhuskers finished 12-18 overall, 4-14 in the Big Ten.

"What went wrong? Besides three of my top six players not playing all year because of injury? I think that's about it," Sadler said. "But people don't want to hear any excuses or about injuries but they are the facts.

"I won more basketball games in my first five years at Nebraska than any other coach did in that time, so I don't hang my head.''

Osborne said he and the coaching staff thought the Huskers would be a better team this season.

"I gambled and Doc gambled that this would be a good year," Osborne said. "Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it didn't work out that way."

The Huskers averaged a league-low 57 points in Big Ten games and the defense, the strength of Sadler's previous teams, unraveled. Nebraska was last in field goal defense and eighth in 3-point defense.

Sadler was a former coach at UTEP, where he led the Miners to an NCAA and an NIT appearance in two seasons. Nebraska made three trips to the NIT under Sadler.

Sadler has said he had passed on three chances to pursue other jobs in recent years, most recently Texas Tech, because Osborne had asked him to stay. Sadler said the contract extension last spring was a symbol of Osborne's commitment to him; Osborne said he didn't regret giving his coach the contract extension.

"I'm going to take a little time to catch my breath," Sadler said. "I have a senior in high school that I need to spend some time with and a ninth grader that's driving his mother nuts probably, so I think I'm just going to go be a parent right now.''

The program had appeared to be on the upswing on and off the court last fall.

With the hope of wooing recruits, Nebraska opened a plush $10 million practice facility in October. A few blocks away in downtown Lincoln, a 16,000-seat arena scheduled to open in October 2013 is under construction.

Sadler, 51, was thought to be a rising star when former Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson hired him away from UTEP in August 2006, after Barry Collier resigned to become athletic director at Butler. Collier had been under fire after going 89-91 and never having a winning Big 12 record in six seasons at Nebraska.

Sadler tied a school record with 37 wins in his first two seasons. But with lackluster facilities and a largely apathetic fan base, Sadler proved to be no different from his predecessors who failed to sustain success.

The Huskers haven't won a conference championship since sharing the Big Seven title in 1949-50, and they're winless in six NCAA tournament appearances. They haven't been to the national tournament since 1998 and haven't produced an NBA draft pick since 1999.

Nebraska showed promise last season, stringing together 11 straight wins for the longest streak since 1991. A win over third-ranked Texas improved the Huskers to 18-8 and 6-6 in the Big 12 and kept them in the NCAA tournament conversation into late February.

But their hopes were dashed after they lost four of their next five games, and then they were blown out at Wichita State in their NIT opener.

Nebraska is now the second Big Ten team with a head coaching opening. Earlier Friday, Illinois fired Bruce Weber. The Illinois job has long been considered one of the top posts in the country, while Nebraska has consistently struggled to be relevant in the Big 12, and now the Big Ten.

"A couple of seniors took it really hard but they're resilient," Sadler said. "I told them everything is going to work out. [Osborne] will get a good coach in here for you.''

Osborne said he had no candidates in mind to fill the position.

"The thing we'd like to do, certainly, is number one have someone with integrity, that's something that's going to be paramount, someone that is concerned about academics," Osborne said. "You're looking for a special person, somebody who can do all those things and still win a fair amount of basketball games. Believe me, winning isn't everything. You look at the process, you look at recruiting, you look at how things are going. At some point if you do enough things right, the winning takes care of itself."

Osborne acknowledged that Nebraska is still widely viewed as a football-first school and not a potential basketball power.

"That doesn't mean that it can't be," he said. "I don't subscribe to the theory that this is a football school and this is a basketball school and never the two will meet."

ESPN.com's Andy Katz and Dana O'Neil contributed and information from The Associated Press was used in this report.