Detroit Mercy fires Bacari Alexander after two seasons

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Bacari Alexander’s once-celebrated return to his alma mater has come to an abrupt end.

Detroit Mercy moved on from the men’s basketball coach Monday after just two seasons — back-to-back eight-win seasons, the latest one filled with off-court drama, after Alexander served a seven-game suspension following a reported verbal altercation with a player during an early season practice.

The school confirmed the decision to The News on Monday afternoon. Jermaine Jackson Sr., once in Alexander’s wedding party, will be the interim head coach.

Earlier Monday afternoon, Alexander changed his official Twitter account to remove all mention of being Detroit Mercy’s head coach. His bio now reads, simply, “Husband, Father, Mentor and Coach.” On Sunday, he tweeted, “How you behave during adversity is very telling. Nothing last forever and that includes challenging times too! #compelled.” Just before that, he tweeted the Detroit Mercy logo accompanied by the tagline, “Forever Titans.”

Alexander and athletic director Robert Vowels didn’t immediately return phone calls and text messages from The News, seeking comment.

Vowels issued a brief statement to The News as part of Detroit Mercy’s two-paragraph announcement.

“Bacari helped inspire a strong work ethic among players and staff during his time and always challenged players to be their best both on and off the court,” Vowels said in the statement. “We thank him for his efforts and wish him the best.”

The news first was reported by ESPN.

Alexander’s stint as head coach is the shortest at Detroit Mercy since John Mulroy lasted just the 1987-88 season, compiling a 7-20 record. But he was only an interim coach. Before that, David Gaines spent just two years on the job in 1977-78 and 1978-79, but he left for a better job at San Diego State after he went 47-10 in two years leading the Titans.

Alexander’s .254 winning percentage (16-47) is the worst in the history of the program, which dates to 1905. This past season, Detroit Mercy set a program record for losses, with 24.

He signed a reported five- to seven-year deal worth as much as $450,000 annually in 2016, after taking over for fired Ray McCallum Sr. Since Detroit Mercy is private, Alexander’s contract and personnel file aren’t subject to open-records requests.

Alexander left Michigan after six years on John Beilein’s staff to return to the private school for which he played from 1997-99, making two NCAA Tournaments.

The Titans were 8-23 his first year, but with a seemingly talented roster that included sophomore Corey Allen, freshman Jermaine Jackson Jr., Michigan transfer and redshirt junior Kam Chatman and graduate transfer Roschon Prince from Long Beach State, they were picked to finish fourth in the Horizon League this season. Vowels told The News he expected no worse than a .500 season.

But things started rocky, with a second consecutive exhibition-opening loss to Division II Wayne State. Nine days later, Alexander, 41, was conspicuously absent from a home game against Michigan-Dearborn on Nov. 13, and didn’t return to the bench until a Dec. 6 home loss to Toledo.

Extremely little was explained about his absence by Detroit Mercy officials, who termed it a “personnel” issue, after initially calling it a “personal” issue when he missed his first game. Alexander repeatedly to call it a suspension.

Alexander, on Dec. 6, said he was never worried about losing his job.

“What I can tell you is that,” Alexander said that day, “there was no doubt that I was gonna continue to be the head coach of Detroit Mercy for now and the foreseeable future.”

Jermaine Jackson Sr. coached the team in Alexander’s absence, and went 4-3. Vowels had high praise for Jackson during Alexander’s absence. Alexander didn’t coach his team to a victory until Jan. 10 against Cleveland State, snapping the team’s 11-game losing streak. Detroit Mercy had a nine-game losing skid in his first season.

The Titans lost both games to rival Oakland this season, flamed out amid a series of injuries and academic-eligibility issues (senior Jaleel Hogan and junior Tariiq Jones, the latter the player reportedly on the receiving end of Alexander’s in-practice tirade), and finished the year with four consecutive losses, including a first-round knockout by Green Bay in the Horizon League tournament. After the Horizon League tournament, Alexander still insisted there was progress being made, especially in the classroom.

Alexander’s coaching career began as an assistant at Detroit Mercy from 2001-07. He also coached at Ohio and Western Michigan before being hired by Beilein at Michigan. He played for the Harlem Globetrotters for a couple years, after a college playing career that began at Robert Morris in Pittsburgh and ended at Detroit Mercy.

Detroit Mercy will be searching for its seventh head coach since 1984, when Greg Kampe began his still-going tenure at rival Oakland.

The announcement comes just days before the Division I Final Four in San Antonio, where hundreds of college-basketball coaches will be gathering.