Even as Old Dominion's men's basketball team careens toward what could be its worst season in the modern era, coach Blaine Taylor still has the confidence of the school's athletic director and says he has the desire to coach well beyond the two-plus seasons remaining on his contract.
"He's the all-time winningest men's basketball coach at ODU," athletic director Wood Selig said Wednesday. "He's established himself. His coaching reputation is an outstanding reputation. This is just unfortunately one of those years even the great ones have."
At 2-16, ODU is on pace for its worst year since 1986-87, when it finished 6-22 - the fewest wins in the school's 36-year Division I history. The win-loss record is an outlier for the 55-year-old Taylor, whose teams have averaged 24 wins over the past eight seasons.
Taylor, signed through the 2014-15 season, said although this year has been a struggle on and off the court, he would like to coach for another decade or longer.
"I'm not looking at this thing like something we're not going to be able to steer our way through," he said.
ODU's surprising fall has been a product of a perfect storm: inexperienced players, untimely injuries and the fallout from a transition from the Colonial Athletic Association to Conference USA, Taylor said. Announced attendance is off about 450 fans per game, although ODU still draws the most fans in the CAA. The Monarchs are 1-10 at home, where they had gone 55-12 over the previous four years.
"If you look at the spot we're in, we're obviously going to have some critics," he said. "I think one of the things we've done a pretty good job of is insulating ourselves from that."
Since a couple of building years early in his tenure, Taylor's teams had made near-seamless transitions from one group of players to the next.
Taylor was rewarded with biennial contract extensions that pushed his annual base salary to $208,000, and his total compensation to $743,428 by 2010, when including radio and television money and payments from the school's athletic fund-raising arm, the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation.
The foundation is a private organization not obligated to disclose the amount it pays Taylor.
The 2010 figures are from its most recent publicly available filings with the IRS. Taylor's current contract was negotiated in 2008.
The university had an option to extend it after the 2010-11 season, but did not. It's fairly common for schools to avoid letting a coach's contract get much below four years because it can be seen as a lack of long-term commitment and used against a school in recruiting.
"At the time, he had four more years left. We felt like that was a good length of time, at a very high level of financial compensation," Selig said. "We didn't feel the need to make any modifications or adjustments."
Taylor's contract specifies that he would be owed two years' salary if he were terminated following the current season.
Selig said he "hadn't even looked at that aspect of the contract," which was negotiated by his predecessor, Jim Jarrett.
"The way I approach it is he still has two more years left on his contract. We'll proceed under that premise."
Taylor described the support of the school administration as "wonderful."
"I think they know that the program's solid; it's just that we're kind of in transition and we're kind of in a time where if you want to be really sensitive to wins and losses, I guess you could be. I don't think that's necessarily the bottom line with everybody right now."
Taylor pointed to a three-member class of incoming recruits, as well as two players currently redshirting, as harbingers of a brighter future. The Monarchs are playing three true freshmen this season, the most in years.
"If you watch a practice, you see a lot of spirit, a lot of energy and a lot of trying," he said. "If you see games, you see lot of spirit and energy and trying; we just haven't had a lot of wins."
The season has taken an emotional toll on players and coaches and not just because of the results on the court. Saturday, the team attended the funeral of Franklin Hassell Sr., father of recent ODU player Frank Hassell, just hours before playing Georgia State. Taylor said it was the seventh funeral he's attended in the past three months.
In an interview Wednesday, Taylor also broke down when talking about how he learned Tuesday that his agent, a longtime friend from his native Montana, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
With 12 games remaining, Taylor said he's long past worrying about ODU's record.
"Right now, it's just, 'Can we play a good game, and can we run to the locker room and high five?' That's where we're at right now."
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