Keith Larsen, the energetic men's basketball coach at Cal State Stanislaus, has been fired after six years at the helm a run that included only one winning season.
The Warriors went 7-18 overall and 3-17 in the CCAA in 2008-09 the team's worst conference record since joining the CCAA and offering athletic scholarships in 1998.
"We're scrambling right now because it's a total shock," Larsen said Wednesday. "We had our evaluations last week and he (athletic director Milt Richards) told me there was no easy way to do it, that they were not going to renew my contract. They wanted me to resign and I told them I wasn't going to quit, that I would work out the terms of my contract."
Coaches' contracts at the school run through the school year, giving Larsen roughly another month on campus.
Richards confirmed the school's decision Wednesday afternoon.
The timing of the firing concerns Larsen and current team members. The NCAA letter-of-intent signing period for basketball began April 15 and runs through May 20. Stanislaus has received multiple non-binding verbal commitments, but has not yet offered letters of intent.
Richards said it would have been difficult to move the non-renewal process along any faster, but the search for a new coach would begin immediately.
"Our coaches are covered by collective bargaining unit," Richards said. "We have a process to follow to complete this procedure and we are following that process."
Guard Chris Teevan, who will be a senior this fall, expressed concern that without a coach in place, this year's recruiting class might be in jeopardy.
"I was sad to see it happen," said Teevan, a graduate of Beyer High and Modesto Junior College. "Was I surprised that Coach Larsen was fired? Not really, but I am surprised at the timing of it considering this is the middle of the recruiting season.
"Coach Larsen was great to play for. Unfortunately the wins didn't match up to what was needed and what should be expected at this school. I think the resources are there and we just didn't get it done. A lot of the blame has to fall on the players, and in that way it's sad to see all the blame fall on one guy; but you can't fire the players."
Prior to arriving in Turlock, Larsen coached at Menlo College in Atherton, leading the Oaks to two conference championships and two berths in the NAIA national tournament. He was also the men's golf coach and athletic director at the school.
He was an assistant coach under Mike Montgomery at Stanford from 1987-92, and prior to that coached at Woodside High and Mills High in Millbrae. He is a graduate of San Francisco State.
"I've been coaching basketball for 30 consecutive years and I've never been fired," said Larsen, 53. "I'll have great memories of Stanislaus, like the big, surprising wins against Pomona and San Bernardino, and walking into the gym before a game and seeing how many people were in the stands. We had great support considering how few games we won.
"The regrets are that I had some great assistant coaches that I just couldn't keep because we never had money to pay them. And because we had so few scholarship dollars, you never had the leeway of being able to make a mistake on a kid. And even if your recruiting was perfect, we would never have the bench that the teams with 10 scholarships would have."
At its peak in 2002-03, Stanislaus was able to allocate $75,000 in performance scholarships to the men's basketball team. Because of a downturn in athletic department fund-raising, Larsen was able to award less than $50,000 in athletic aid in the 2008-09 season.
"We'd like to be fully funded in every sport," Richards said. "We're not there yet."
Stanislaus has enjoyed periods of success in men's basketball, posting eight winning seasons in its final nine years as a Division III school (1980-89,) and three winning seasons in its first four years (1989-93) as a Division II non-scholarship school.
But since making the move to the Division II scholarship level in 1998, Warriors men's teams have had three winning seasons, a 115-192 overall record and have gone 92-152 in CCAA play. In 43 years of men's basketball, Stanislaus is 518-630 and has enjoyed only 19 winning seasons.
Larsen said he would like to stay in coaching and plans to remain in Turlock with his wife Shaun and junior-high-aged daughters, Camilyn and Victoria.
"I know these are tough times, but I will land on my feet," Larsen said. "I'm not going to uproot my family right now."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.