Oregon’s retention of Paul Westhead shows that they don’t care about women’s basketball

The University of Oregon hired Paul Westhead as their women’s basketball coach four years ago. As an experienced coach with success on both the college and professional levels, Westhead was known for producing quick teams that ran opponents into the ground, which excited fans. The UO gave him a five-year, $3.2 million contract that stipulated he’d be paid the full amount even if he was fired before the end date in 2014.

The Ducks’ performance has declined each year Westhead has been coach. It’s a situation I’ve written about several times before. This past season was the worst by far, as Oregon didn’t win a game until mid-December, and finished 4-27 overall and 2-16 in conference.

Oregon had several injuries this year, which Westhead-excusers are quick to say was the heart of the problem. But the team had injury issues in 2011-2012, and it isn’t that simple.

A pattern has emerged under Westhead’s leadership: the Ducks start out strong and then skid, losing multiple games before they’re able to snap the streak. That indicates he’s not able to motivate them – particularly in his first two years, when he had talent at the ready. This year athletes took to blaming themselves for “not working hard enough.” Jillian Alleyne said they “need more leadership.”

That starts with the coach.

Beyond that obvious state of affairs I don’t know what else is wrong, as I’m not on the team. But Westhead as coach isn’t working, and UO fans have been unhappy for the last three years. Season ticket holder numbers have dropped, and those who are still hanging on sit in their seats and grumble. Women’s basketball is the lone program at Oregon that is at a historic low point, as virtually every other sport is succeeding mightily.

Westhead needs to go now.

But he’s not leaving anytime soon. A UO representative confirmed to me today that, “Coach Westhead is under contract and his status has not changed.” (That’s all he would say). Which means they don’t want to pay him the $675,000 remaining on his over-priced contract, and then have to turn around and hire another coach for more money. This is strange to me, because the UO can afford it.

Nike CEO Phil Knight has built most of the school’s athletic facilities:

The most telling move of all: Knight helped build a $15 million indoor practice facility for the football team. Because if Oregon was going to be among the national elite, it’d mean drawing elite talent to rainy Eugene from all over the nation. And elite talent doesn’t like practicing in the rain.

Since then, the spending’s continued. In 2003, Oregon built a two-story football locker room that cost $3.2 million, and includes ventilated lockers that cost an estimated $26,000-a-piece. In 2007, the Athletic Medicine Center was built with another $10 million in donations. And then in 2010, there was the academic center for athletes that Knight built.

So not only has Oregon been saving facilities and uniform monies, they rake in the cash during football season, when every game is sold out. Don’t tell me they can’t afford to boot Westhead and get a real coach in there. It’s obviously not a priority for them.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, because I haven’t recognized the University from which I graduated for a long time. It used to be a track and field mecca with good women’s and men’s basketball teams. Now it’s all about football. It feels like football was bussed in from across the country like they used to do with kids in schools – in other words, fake.

Oregon women’s basketball made the first NCAA Tournament in 1982. I’ll never forget it; it’s what got me into the sport, and into athletics in general. Fast forward 31 years and they have another bad coach that they won’t fire, when they could. They should be ashamed of themselves.

The UO owes it to their women’s basketball program, and the athletes in it, to step up and help the program by getting a new coach. Their failure to address the problem shows how little they care about the sport.