KLEIN: Bryce Drew firing shows AD Malcolm Turner means business

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KLEIN: Bryce Drew firing shows AD Malcolm Turner means business

Photo by Ziyi Liu

Photo by Ziyi Liu

Photo by Ziyi Liu

Photo by Ziyi Liu

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

This was not a decision new Vanderbilt Athletic Director Malcolm Turner probably thought he would have to make on Feb. 1.

Turner has been on the job for nearly two months now, and he has already made a bold choice in firing Men’s Basketball head coach Bryce Drew after three seasons. Regardless of what Drew’s 0-19 SEC record this season says, firing Drew was the hard decision, not the easy one.

He could have found any reason to keep Drew for one more season. Anything from projected lottery pick Darius Garland’s unfortunate knee injury to the recruits in line for 2019 and 2020 to the massive size of the buyout Drew would get if he was terminated could have been used to justify giving Drew one more year.

Instead, Turner has sent a message that when your team hits rock bottom and doesn’t show many signs of being able to climb out, there will be consequences. Vanderbilt’s tolerance for losing is not what it once was.

Photo by Ziyi Liu

Despite what some national pundits may say, “it’s Vanderbilt” doesn’t apply as an excuse anymore. Accepting performances like the 2018-19 season might be becoming a thing of the past. That’s not going to be Malcolm Turner’s Vanderbilt.

Last week, I wrote a column about why Drew should be retained for one more season. In hindsight, the column was mostly about why Drew would be kept rather than why he should be kept. I won’t apologize for writing it, as I genuinely thought Drew would get another chance.

However, it’s clear now that Turner is not willing to wait to assert his authority. He wants to shape the Athletic Department the way he wants to, and he wants to do it now.

“Vanderbilt is committed to competing at the highest levels on and off the court. After careful consideration, we’ve decided to make a change to the leadership of our men’s basketball program,” said Turner in a statement. “Bryce has represented Vanderbilt in exceptional fashion in his time here. I appreciate all of the contributions Bryce has made over the past three seasons to Vanderbilt, and we wish him all the best.”

Firing Drew is a bold move, but at the same time, Turner is showing his ability to be pragmatic and reasonable by not firing Women’s Basketball Head Coach Stephanie White simultaneously. White has shown and ability to develop her players and has a strong recruiting class coming in next year. In all likelihood, she will remain in her job for next season, and it’s because she’s earned one more chance.

What’s also interesting is that Turner will lead this search himself. Leadership in the search that produced Drew was passed to former Vanderbilt coach Eddie Fogler. Turner clearly wants to make this his search and own this hire, and who could blame him given his connections in the basketball world from his time at the NBA G League?

It remains to be seen what will happen with Turner’s attempt to save some buyout money and “reassign” Drew elsewhere in the university, per ESPN’s Jeff Borzello. If Drew is willing to submit himself to that (I’m really not sure he would be), I would imagine he would become something like The Office’s “Assistant to the Regional Manager”: a fun-sounding fake position.

Photo by Claire Barnett

It’s true that Drew is a great person and perhaps even genuinely a good basketball coach. That’s perhaps the hardest part of his firing. By no means should Vanderbilt fans start buying Turner beers in the new Home Run Lounge at Hawkins Field this weekend. It’s tough to see a family man that has done so much to endear himself to the Vanderbilt community get fired in these circumstances.

But, it became clear that Drew was in over his head for most of this season, and that his effusively, and sometimes unfounded, positive temperament had become off-putting to many that watched Vanderbilt Basketball’s games.

While it’s far too early to call this move a full-fledged “culture change” in McGugin, it’s a solid first step for Turner to prove that his vision for the Men’s Basketball program and for Vanderbilt Athletics includes a high standard of excellence.

There were no excuses made. There was no soft exit with Drew leaving for another job. Drew was relieved of his duties, and that’s that. There will be a coaching search, and things are going to change inside Vanderbilt Basketball.

The coach that Turner brings in at the conclusion of this search process will say a lot about where Turner’s plan goes from here. There will certainly be a lot of names out there after this season, so Turner will undoubtedly have no trouble finding a list of names to look at.

Turner has passed the first quiz. Now it’s up to him to ace his first test.

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