Mark Ehlen, the University of Toledo's winningest women's basketball coach, learned earlier this week that this season would be his last at UT.
It was his call on what to do next, and Ehlen chose to quickly end the speculation about his status. Ehlen announced his resignation yesterday, effective at the end of the season, also partly to give athletic director Mike O'Brien time to start looking for his replacement.
Ehlen will finish the regular season and the Mid-American Conference tournament coaching the team. The Rockets have six games left before the tourney, including tomorrow at 7 p.m. against Miami at Savage Hall.
"It's the last year of my contract," Ehlen said. "I didn't want any distractions, I wanted to get it over with and allow us to play basketball down the stretch.
"If this is going to be the last few weeks with my team, I want to have fun. I don't want it to be hanging over me, I don't want it to be hanging over them."
Ehlen, 54, has coached the Rockets for 13 years and has 236 wins at UT, with a .619 winning percentage. The list of accolades his teams garnered his first eight years in Toledo runs quite long.
For the Rockets, four MAC tournament titles and NCAA tournament appearances, three regular-season championships and a record four MAC coach of the year awards for Ehlen all came in the span of 1995-2003.
But UT finished the last four seasons entering this one with a losing record, and never finished better than fourth in the MAC West. This year UT is 10-12 and 3-7 in the MAC, and has lost four straight games by an average of 21 points. The Rockets have also dropped 10 straight contests to rival Bowling Green.
A packed conference room at Savage Hall yesterday echoed with sniffles as Ehlen spoke. Ehlen said at the outset he was worried about shedding some tears but held up well during his resignation speech.
"The first eight years were pretty fun. The last five years have been pretty hard," Ehlen said. "As hard as we've tried, we haven't been able to get the team out of the nosedive that we're in."
Ehlen met with O'Brien before the season to discuss expectations he needed to meet in order to receive a new contract after this season. The specifics of those parameters were not disclosed, but apparently the Rockets didn't have a chance of achieving them before the season ended. They met again on Monday and O'Brien let Ehlen know his contract would not be renewed.
"He wanted improvement," Ehlen said. "I don't think that's too much to ask.
"He's been nothing but supportive. I have a lot of respect for Mike."
Said O'Brien, "As we got into the season, we just felt it was time. We felt this season would be it. I wanted it to be comfortable for him as to what he actually wanted to do."
Ehlen met with his team at
3:15 p.m. yesterday to give them the news. The players in attendance at the press conference were too distraught to give interviews but some players will be made available to the media today.
It's hard to pinpoint how a program that experiences so much success can take a sudden downturn under the same leadership. Ehlen stressed he did not want to make excuses but offered a little insight.
"I've made mistakes," Ehlen said. "One of the things, I've had constant changeover in my staff since the day I came. I've been here 13 years, and all but two of those years I've had change.
"Some of the coaches, we had success and they wanted to move up the ladder. A few of the coaches, for some reasons they didn't work out. There's been a lot of change. I look at that, and it affects recruiting, it affects continuity."
O'Brien said the search for a new coach will begin immediately. The school will not use a search firm, but, O'Brien said, "We will move as quickly and as carefully as we can."
A native of Kenton, Ohio, Ehlen said he hopes to stay in coaching. He has 22 years of head coaching experience, including nine at Xavier, and an overall record of 358-275.
He said one of the things he will remember most fondly was a three-game stretch at the end of the 2000-01 season and the beginning of the 01-02 campaign.
In the 2001 MAC championship game, the Rockets came back from 25 points down to beat Kent State in overtime. They next played eventual Final Four team Southwest Missouri State tough in the NCAA tournament. In the 2001-02 season opener, UT upset No. 5 Duke.
"I have no regrets," Ehlen said.
Contact Maureen Fulton at: