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Statham takes to Facebook to criticize McKendree for his ouster

Harry Statham is the winningest coach in college basketball history, but he was also as down-to-earth as you could get.
Harry Statham is the winningest coach in college basketball history, but he was also as down-to-earth as you could get. News-Democrat file photo

Harry Staham is not going quietly.

The legendary men's basketball coach at McKendree University and all-time wins leader among coaches at any four-year college, took to social media early Saturday morning to make clear that his separation from the men's program was not of his decision.

McKendree announced last Tuesday that the 2017-18 season — which ended at 12-16 and 3-15 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference — was Statham's last on the Bearcats bench. His current contract expires May 31.

Statham, 80, told the Bellevlle News-Democrat later that day that the decision was not his.

"I did not resign as the head coach at McKendree University. I was told that they were going to go in a different direction with the men's basketball program," Statham said. "Of course, I'm disappointed."

He reiterated his disappointment on the Facebook post, which includes the text of an email he sent to McKendree Athletics Director Chuck Brueggemann, responding to an offer to continue as an assistant professor of physical education for the next academic year.

The post quickly garnered more than 100 reactions and shares on Facebook. Comments almost exclusively are in support of Statham, while others chastise Brueggeman, McKendree President James Dennis and the university for their handling of his release.

Brueggemann said the university has no response to Statham's statement other than to wish him well.

"We want to wish Harry well and continue to celebrate his complete body of work however we can," Brueggemann said by phone.

The full, unedited content of Statham's statement follows:

"To all my great former players, fans and friends — I want to make something crystal clear. The McKendree press release infers that I chose to resign/retire. I did not choose to resign/retire. Following is my email response to the offer from AD Brueggemann and President Dennis to resign/retire or 'we're going in a different direction':

--

"I have built a program on integrity, academics, and success. We have won over 1120 games. Our program is superior in every area.

Our conference wins are admittedly sub-par, but 3 of our 4 top recruits missed a large portion of the conference season this year. Several losses were very close and we defeated Drury on the road early in the season.

"I made some decisions not popular with all the players, which probably cost us some wins, but I would do the same thing again because it was the right thing to do. Sometimes, integrity is not popular with everyone.

"We return quality players and, so far, have some outstanding recruits in line. I think next year will be much improved.

"Chuck, I appreciate your visit this afternoon, but am very disappointed that, after 52 years of service, I must give you an answer in less than 24 hours about a career change of this magnitude.

"I would think a conference with the President, Director of Athletics and Head Coach about the future direction of the program would have been in order.

"If the only reason to go in another direction is not enough conference wins, I am very disappointed in that philosophy. Evidently, past successes and local/national publicity for McKendree mean nothing.

"No one wants to win more than I; I'm not a quitter. I want to go out a winner but I will not sacrifice ethics to win. I will tell the press and our fans the truth without reservation and have a clear conscience.

"I am not retiring or resigning today. Do what you think is the right thing to do.

"So, after 52 years, 1122 wins, and large monetary donations back to McKendree, I don't think termination was 'the right thing to do.'"

Statham began his coaching career as an undergraduate at McKendree. He guided the boys basketball team at O’Fallon Junior High School while taking college courses at night.

After graduating from McKendree in 1960, Statham moved on to the University of Illinois, where he was a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball and track teams. He completed requirements for a master's degree in physical education before embarking on a high school coaching career.

Statham coached at Manito Foreman High School from 1961-63 before moving to Dwight High School. He stayed at Dwight three years before returning to McKendree.

Statham earned Coach of the Year honors in the American Midwest Conference eight times and has been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Statham began his coaching career as an undergraduate at McKendree. He guided the boys basketball team at O’Fallon Junior High School while taking college courses at night.

His 1,122 wins surpassed late Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt for the most in all of college basketball.

McKendree left the NAIA ranks after the 2010-11 season and began competing in Division II as a member of the GLVC.

McKendree University Director of Athletics Chuck Brueggemann talks about the school honoring alum Warren Barty, a member of the school's Athletic Hall of Fame, prior to Wednesday's men's basketball game in Lebanon, Illinois.

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