Amid coronavirus crisis, WMU stays local in hiring Clayton Bates as next men's hoops coach

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

When it came to finding its new men's basketball coach, Western Michigan didn't go far. 

Clayton Bates, who has spent 15 seasons with the program over three separate stints, has been promoted to the top job, the university announced late Saturday night.

The school acknowledged it scrapped the national search amid the coronavirus crisis.

New WMU basketball coach Clayton Bates

"I decided to change leadership of our program days before the COVID-19 crisis emerged," athletic director Kathy Beauregard said in a statement. "A comprehensive national search in this time of anxiety, despite exceedingly strong national interest in the position, just didn't sit well with me.

"Our student-athletes, and the whole program, is fortunate, in this difficult time, to have strong leadership in Clayton Bates, a 20-year veteran of the program. "I know that Coach Bates will do an excellent job leading these young men during the 2020-21 season." 

Bates takes over for Steve Hawkins, whose contract wasn't renewed earlier this month after 17 seasons as head coach, and 20 years in all with the program.

Bates has never been a head coach but has a very good reputation in the business. Western Michigan players were told of the hire Saturday night.

"Clayton is one of the best people in our profession," said Billy Donlon, who had Bates on staff when he was head coach at Wright State. "He also happens to be an excellent coach."

Bates will receive a two-year contract worth $220,000 in annual base pay, plus potential bonuses. It's a cost savings for Western, which was paying Hawkins $385,000 a year in the end. Bates' salary is expected to be the lowest among his peers in the Mid-American Conference.

Thomas Kelley and Jake Bullock will remain on staff under Bates. Glen Heffernan will not be retained.

Western's first choice for the job was former Broncos star Saddi Washington, who's an assistant at Michigan. Washington decided, after discussing the opening with Beauregard via FaceTime, to stay with the Wolverines.

Washington called it a difficult decision, and is expected to receive a raise for his second year under Juwan Howard, from his $330,000 salary from last season.

Western then had to regroup with its search, which was slowed by the school's shutdown due to coronavirus. The school also has a hiring freeze in place, only allowing internal promotions indefinitely.

"Clayton is the best person for the job at hand," Beauregard said. "He brings a wealth of playing and coaching experience and he has a close bond with the young men on our team.

"They deserve this stability and clear direction for the program."

Beauregard also had conversations with Michigan State assistant coach Dwayne Stephens, formIndiana assistant Ed Schilling and former Western star Manny Newsome. Beauregard had plans to reach out to Missouri assistant Cornell Mann, a Metro Detroit native, on Saturday, but that didn't happen.

Bates played at Florida under Lon Kruger, making the Final Four as a player in 1994, and later was on Kruger's staff at Illinois. He was hired by former WMU coach Robert McCullum and remained on staff when Hawkins got the job in 2003. After spending the 2008-09 season away from coaching, he returned to Western for a year before joining Donlon's staff at Wright State from 2010-12. Again, he returned to Kalamazoo, where he's been ever since.

He has a reputation as a player's coach and a good recruiter, one Western hopes can keep the current roster in place — including star guard Michael Flowers, a former Southfield A&T star — and hold on to the recruits. The Broncos don't have anybody currently in the transfer portal.

"My family and I are proud Broncos and we are excited to be part of the university in this new capacity," Bates, who is married with two daughters, said in a statement. "Success is a product of shared ownership.

"We will work together to represent the university in a first-class manner.

Western was 21-43 over the last two seasons, including 8-28 in the MAC, amid a flurry of significant injuries and roster turnover. The Broncos last made the NCAA Tournament in 2014, and 2004 before that.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984