What has been rumored for hours and wanted by a worn-out fan base for over a year is now official. Chris Lowery is out as the coach at Southern Illinois University.
It was made official at a 3:30 pm press conference in Carbondale, less than 20 hours after the Saluki season ended with a 66-51 loss to Indiana State in the play-in round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
Once one of the best two or three mid-major programs in the country, SIU finished this year 8-23, including a 9th place finish in the MVC.
Athletic Director Mario Moccia cited four clear reasons for the decision. 1. Player Retention 2. Decline in Academic Performance 3. Significant Decline in revenue in the program 4. Fan Apathy.
Player retention was perhaps the root of the issue that dropped SIU from a Sweet 16 team under Lowery in 2006-07 to where they are now. The Lowery coined “greatest recruiting class in SIU history”, rated in the top 25 in the country for the 2008-09 season, was a bust. Kevin Dillard transferred out and now stars at Dayton. Anthony Booker was a total bust and now comes off the bench for Iowa State. Torres Roundtree was kicked off the team during his freshman year. Ryan Hare was kicked off the team after his freshman year. Justin Bocot was inconsistent, flirted with legal issues, and never lived up to his potential. Prior to that class Brandon Wood (now at Michigan State) and Josh Bone (Tennessee) left.
Moccia also cited finances. SIU’s attendance is down over 200% from their Sweet 16 year to this year. From last year to this year alone ticket sales have declined over $500,000. The scholarship fund is down over $200,000. And that doesn’t factor concessions and merchandise and advertising sales.
Lowery is a former Saluki player and is the only individual in MVC history to win a regular season title as a player and as a coach.
Mario Moccia says a nation-wide search will begin immediately. While avoiding setting a firm timeline, Moccia says he would prefer to have a deal done around the Final Four.
If Lowery did one thing right in recent years, he left SIU with an excellent foundation. A freshman class including Dantiel Daniels, Treg Setty, Josh Swan, Harry Whitt, and Antonio Bryer have performed very well on and off the court. All signs point to all of them remaining. Highly rated recruit Bobo Drummond has indicated he will maintain his commitment. It is unknown if the same can be said for JUCO guard Travis Wilkins.