Saint Louis fires hoop coach Soderberg

ST. LOUIS -- Saint Louis coach Brad Soderberg was fired Tuesday after five seasons, a move tied to the school's new $80.5 million arena under construction and his failure to produce an NCAA Tournament bid.

The school announced the move in a statement that said the success of the Chaifetz Arena, scheduled to open for the 2008-09 season, was contingent on a program that could contend for conference championships.

Later Tuesday, the school made Angres Thorpe as interim head men's basketball coach while it seeks a permanent replacement. Thorpe has been an assistant at Saint Louis since 2002 and was Soderberg's lead assistant in 2006-07.

Saint Louis was 20-13 last season, Soderberg's first 20-win season and the school's first 20-win season since 1997-98, and finished in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic-10 Conference. But the Billikens haven't made it to the NCAA Tournament since 2000.

Soderberg produced NIT bids in his first two seasons at Saint Louis, but the team didn't make it to the postseason his final three seasons. He's 80-74 overall with a career record of 211-147 and was let go with two years remaining on a five-year contract he signed in November 2004.

The Billikens bottomed out with a 9-21 record in 2004-05 but rebounded with 16 wins the following season.

The school said it will begin the search for a replacement immediately. It said Soderberg was fired after an "extensive review of the state of the men's basketball program" since the end of the season. In the statement, the school said it did not "anticipate" making further comments regarding the change.

A call to Soderberg's cell phone seeking comment was not immediately returned.

The move came two days after the annual team banquet and six days after Soderberg signed a pair of recruits to national letters of intent.

Saint Louis' new arena is named for Richard Chaifetz of Chicago, a 1975 graduate of the school whose $12 million donation for the arena was announced in February. Chaifetz founded ComPsych Corp., a provider of employee assistance programs, in 1984.

The school said it is $7.5 million short of its fundraising goal.

Also on Tuesday, a favorable decision by the Missouri Supreme Court frees the university to use $8 million in special tax financing to develop the arena.

The arena will be the new home for the school's men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams, as well as a venue for concerts and other events. The projected seating capacity is 10,600, which is not a huge increase from the team's average of more than 9,000 per game last season in the Scottrade Center.

Saint Louis finished its season with a 60-40 loss to George Washington in the semifinals of the Atlantic-10 tournament semifinals. The Billikens will have four starters back next season, losing only senior center Ian Vouyoukas. Forward Tommie Liddell, who will be a junior, led the team with a 15.4-point average.