Garner's run officially ends

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Gary Garner firmly believes the Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team he and his staff assembled for next season will win the Ohio Valley Conference title.

If that happens, Garner only regrets he won't be around to take part in it.

The university made official on Wednesday what had first leaked on Tuesday: Garner's nine-year run as Southeast's head coach is over.

Southeast athletic director Don Kaverman announced during a late morning news conference inside a Show Me Center conference room that Garner's contract will not be extended.

Garner, 62, was in the final year of a five-year contract that expires June 30.

"The decision was made after the customary review of the program," Kaverman said. "We believe it is in the best interest of the program to make a change in leadership at this time.

"We are grateful of coach Garner's service to the university. He has had a long and distinguished career. He is a man of integrity and a team player. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors."

A coaching tenure at Southeast that began with so much promise ended in a 7-20 season, including a 4-16 Ohio Valley Conference mark that placed the Redhawks 10th in the 11-team OVC and left them out of the eight-team conference tournament.

This marks Southeast's fourth losing season in the past five years under Garner, the only exception being last season's 15-14 record that featured a 9-7 OVC mark and a trip to the league tournament semifinals.

Garner's nine-year record at Southeast is 126-132, including a 50-91 mark over the past five seasons.

In Garner's first four years, Southeast was 76-41, including a 24-7 mark in 1999-2000 that featured the program's first OVC title and first NCAA Division I tournament berth.

"Needless to say, I'm very disappointed in the university's decision," Garner said. "I feel like we'll have a great basketball team the next two years. I truly believe Southeast Missouri State will win the OVC championship next year [when heralded transfers Brandon Foust and Mike Rembert become eligible].

"Having said that, I understand. We didn't win a lot of basketball games the last few years. There is nothing personal in this. It usually all comes down to winning games."

Garner said he still believes that, had this year's Redhawks not lost so many players to injuries and off-the-court problems -- they had only seven available scholarship players for the latter part of the season -- they would have at least put together a respectable campaign, which in turn would likely have kept him around.

"I really felt like coming into the season we would win 13, 14, 15 games. I still believe we would have if not for the injuries and other things. We'll never know," Garner said. "If we had, I'm sure I'd still be here."

It has been documented that following Garner's successful early run at Southeast, the program's operational budget was cut considerably -- enough to place it at the bottom of the OVC until a fairly recent increase put it around the middle of the pack.

Garner has said privately he believes the budget restraints hindered the program greatly, primarily in the area of recruiting -- but he elected not to point fingers on Wednesday.

"Life goes on. There is no bitterness here. It's been a great ride," Garner said. "The thing I'm most proud of is the program is in really good shape. It's probably in better shape than it's ever been."

Garner said it will be difficult not having a chance to coach next year's team, which will not only add the services of Foust (a transfer from Oklahoma) and Rembert (a transfer from Bradley), but will regain the services of several players who missed time this season.

"That's the hardest part. We know what's in place," Garner said.

Garner, a collegiate head coach for 23 years, said he does not know what his future holds -- or if he will ever coach another game.

"I really don't know. We and wife Barbara, who attended the news conference really like Cape Girardeau. We might stay here," Garner said. "I'd really like to [coach again], but it would have to be the right situation. Age is going to enter into it with a lot of schools."

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