Facing mounting pressure from an increasingly frustrated fan base, as well as a recent health scare, Western Kentucky men’s basketball coach Rick Stansbury resigned his position Saturday after seven seasons on the Hill.
“After giving this much thought, I have made the decision that I need to step away as head coach at Western Kentucky,” Stansbury said in a statement released by the university. “This past season has been a challenging one, and I need some time to step away from things and focus on my health and my family. This is a very difficult decision but the right one.
“I want to thank our players and the coaches I have had on my staff. It is always about the players, it is why we do what we do and I have really enjoyed coaching them.”
WKU Athletic Director Todd Stewart said the search is on for Stansbury’s replacement.
“As far as a timetable, it will be as long as it takes to get the right person,” Stewart said. “Obviously, there are several factors you’re looking for. Experience, and I believe head coaching experience is a plus, the ability to recruit, player development, an emphasis on academics, someone who is good in the community, and, obviously, somebody who can win.”
Stewart cited the WKU basketball legacy and said all involved are frustrated by the NCAA Tournament drought that now extends for a decade.
“There is such a rich history here,” Stewart said. “Only Kansas and Kentucky have won more conference championships. The foundation is in place, and I think the right coach can take us a long way.”
Stansbury, 63, crafted a record of 139-89 (.610) at WKU, but became the first coach in program history to never lead the Hilltoppers to the NCAA Tournament — losing three times in the Conference USA Tournament championship game (2018, 2019, 2021).
This season, WKU was projected to finish second in Conference USA, behind UAB, in a preseason vote by league coaches, but the Hilltoppers proved to be a massive disappointment in what turned out to be a markedly improved conference.
Following an 8-1 start against a soft schedule, Western was upset by then-winless Louisville (0-9) 94-83 on Dec. 14 at the KFC Yum Center and the Tops never quite recovered — losing 65-58 at lowly South Carolina eight days later.
Following the loss at South Carolina, Stansbury missed the next nine games due to an unspecified health issue, not returning to the WKU sidelines until Jan. 26.
Western finished the roller-coaster campaign 17-16 overall and 8-12 in league play, which left the Hilltoppers as the No. 8 seed in the C-USA Tournament.
In the final game of the regular season, WKU was blasted 67-33 at North Texas — the most one-sided loss of Stansbury’s tenure and the lowest point total for a Hilltopper team since Jan. 19, 1946, when Western dropped a 55-27 decision at Murray State.
WKU opened the C-USA Tournament with a 73-67 conquest of No. 9 seed UTEP last Wednesday, but the Hilltoppers were noncompetitive in a 75-51 quarterfinal drubbing at the hands of FAU on Thursday — fueling speculation that Stansbury might not return for an eighth season.
A Meade County native, Stansbury — long regarded as a top-flight recruiter — enjoyed a highly-productive career at Mississippi State (1998-2012). He led the Bulldogs to six NCAA Tournament appearances, two Southeastern Conference Tournament championships and an SEC regular season title. He was SEC Coach of the Year in 2004.
His coaching career also included stops at his alma mater Campbellsville University (assistant), Austin Peay (assistant) and Texas A&M (associate head coach).