CARLOS OSORIO / AP Enlarge
ANN ARBOR Tommy Amaker maintained it was fair to expect Michigan to earn an NCAA tournament bid in his sixth season leading the basketball program.
When the Wolverines fell short of that goal, athletic director Bill Martin decided it was right to fire him yesterday.
Letting Tommy go was the toughest decision I ve had to make in seven years as athletic director, Martin said. He took over a program that needed help, and he helped it in a lot of ways.
But at Michigan, we have a tradition of winning Big Ten and national championships and we haven t been close to doing either in a lot of ways.
Amaker said he was disappointed but not surprised when Martin broke the news to him.
Nobody wants to be told your time is up, or that you re no longer wanted, Amaker said. I wouldn t say shocked. I was hopeful we would get a chance to continue, but that s not the case, and I understand and respect the decisions that are made at Michigan.
Before last season started, Amaker said it wasn t unreasonable to look for the Wolverines to reach the NCAA tournament this year.
We re not hiding from the hurdle still facing us making it to the NCAA tournament, Amaker said in a November interview. It s fair to expect us to get there this year.
The Wolverines ended up playing in the NIT for the third time in four years.
Michigan s season ended Thursday with a 87-66 loss at Florida State in the second-tier tournament, finishing 22-13.
Before Amaker was fired, Martin shared his thoughts on the past season.
There were moments of delight and success, Martin said. But we didn t make the NCAA tournament and that was the goal. To that extent, it was a disappointment.
Amaker s career record at Michigan was 109-83 overall with three 20-win seasons, but just 43-53 in the Big Ten.
Am I disappointed and hurt? Of course, he said. I m not going to sit up here and say I m happy. But angry? Bitter? I don t subscribe to those things.
When you put your heart and soul and everything you have into something, you are disappointed because you want to see it through. But I understand how this business works.
Amaker was under contract through the 2010-11 season, but the school could fire him without cause by giving him $900,000, according to his contract that was obtained last week by the AP.
He had to be employed as Michigan s coach on March 31, 2011, to earn a deferred-compensation package after the school s annual contributions of $100,000. By firing him, the school keeps the invested money, according to the contract.
Michigan hired Amaker on March 29, 2001, after firing Brian Ellerbe. He inherited a mess stemming from the Ed Martin scandal, the school s lackluster facilities and Ellerbe s poor recruiting.
Martin, a now-deceased former booster, told the federal government he lent $616,000 to ex-Wolverines Chris Webber, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock in what the NCAA said was the largest financial scandal in its history.
Michigan was 18-12 overall and 10-6 in 2002-03, Amaker s second year, but the Wolverines were ineligible for the postseason consideration because of NCAA sanctions.
I ll always be grateful for the job Tommy did, taking over a situation that wasn t ideal, Martin said.
In four seasons at Seton Hall, Amaker led the Pirates to a 68-55 record, a trip to the round of 16 in the 2000 NCAA tournament and three NIT bids.
The 41-year-old native of Falls Church, Va., spent nine years on Mike Krzyzewski s staff at Duke, where he was a four-year starter in the mid-1980s.
Amaker s wife, Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, is associate dean of students at Michigan.