AUSTIN, Texas -- Bob Weltlich, whose announced intention was to build a program 'with character, not characters,' was fired Tuesday as head basketball coach at the University of Texas.
Weltlich, a former assistant to Indiana coach Bob Knight who tried to bring Knight's disciplinary style to a program used to the folksy, casual manner employed by former coach Abe Lemons, posted a 77-98 record in six years with the Longhorns.
'With current recruiting, our improved play and the prospects for next season, I am disappointed in the decision to relieve me of my responsibilities as the basketball coach of the University of Texas,' Weltlich said in a prepared statement. 'I feel badly for and want to thank those who have been supportive of our program.'
School officials said Weltlich would be retained in some athletic department capacity for the remaining two years of his contract and would assist him if he wanted to search for another job. His replacement is expected to be hired within 10 days.
Weltlich's brand of basketball was unpopular with area fans from the start. The Longhorns averaged 7,470 fans per game in the 17,000-seat Erwin Center in Weltlich's first year, fell to 4,140 the next season and was never higher than 6,166 the remainder of his tenure. Most of the players recruited by Lemons quit the team when Weltlich arrived and Weltlich was never able to recruit the number of quality athletes needed to build a program.
The men's team was usually outdrawn by the powerful Texas women's team, which won the NCAA championship in 1986.
One of the first actions taken by Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds when he took the job in 1982 was to fire Lemons and hire Weltlich. Speculation grew in recent years that Weltlich still had his job only because he had been the first person hired by Dodds.
A local newspaper reported Tuesday that Dodds still wanted to give Weltlich one more season, but found current players had so much negative feelings toward the coach that it would be useless to keep him.
'I care about University of Texas' national perception,' Dodds said. 'I think our national perception in basketball at Texas ought to be a winning tradition and a nationally recognized basketball program, and I would put that ahead of the national perception about what we're doing today (firing a coach).
'I think we have one of the great facilities in the country. We certainly have one of the great universities. We've got great athletic tradition at Texas. We've got the resources. We have the fans in Austin to get the job done.
'We've got a women's program today that's getting the job done and we're proud of them. We'd like to be that good.'
Lemons coached the Longhorns to an NIT championship and into the NCAA tournament during his years at the school, but he was surprisingly dismissed in 1982.
At the news conference announcing Weltlich's hiring, he immediately antagonized those who had enjoyed Lemons' antics by saying:
'We will win with character, not characters.'
Weltlich was also haunted by an incident at the Southeastern Conference tournament when he was coach at the University of Mississippi, during which he broke down and cried while berating the officials after losing a close game.
When that incident was mentioned during his first Texas news conference, Weltlich bristled and barked at the questioner:
'Well, you probably have some skeletons in your closet, too.'
Weltlich had three winning seasons at Texas and his team shared the conference title with two other teams in 1986. The Longhorns won nine of their last 11 regular season games this year, but lost in the opening round of the SWC tournament to Houston.
'What we basically did was take a look at six years,' Dodds said. 'We really took a look at the history of University of Texas basketball and established in our minds what goals we had. I think it's just looking at the total picture.'
Dodds would not speculate on candidates for the post.
'Those (North Carolina Coach) Dean Smith types had to start somewhere,' Dodds said, 'and you have to believe those kind of people are out there. I think you're looking for the perfect person, but there are very few perfect ones out there.'