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Western Michigan men's basketball coach Clayton Bates out after just 2 seasons

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Western Michigan will go searching for another men's basketball coach.

The school announced Monday that Clayton Bates is out after two years as head coach. The school said Bates was stepping down, though later said in a "a change in leadership is necessary." Bates had one season left on his contract; details of a payout weren't immediately available.

Bates took over for Steve Hawkins, who was let go after 17 years on the job in March 2020.

Western Michigan finished 5-16 last season in coach Clayton Bates' first year at the helm.

"Coach Bates has been a stabilizing and loyal member of the Bronco basketball family over several years," new Western Michigan athletic director Dan Bartholomae said in a statement. "He has been a great teammate during my first two months on campus and is a genuine leader who is student-athlete centered. 

"However, in assessing our performance in recent years, we agreed a change in leadership is necessary to elevate this program towards a level of comprehensive excellence that includes competing at the highest levels of the (Mid-American Conference). We thank Clayton and his family and wish all the best in their future endeavors. The young men in our men's basketball program are fantastic and we will continue to support them as we look for a new leader of our program."

Bates didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from The Detroit News on Monday afternoon.

Bates was a longtime assistant coach under Hawkins when he was hired amid the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago. After Western Michigan let Hawkins go, then-athletic director Kathy Beauregard offered the job to alum and Michigan assistant Saddi Washington, but he turned it down. His interest this time almost certainly will be gauged again; he makes $330,000 at Michigan. Beauregard also talked to Michigan State assistant coach Dwayne Stephens, before Western Michigan, amid uncertain finances with the pandemic, then issued an outside hiring freeze, leading to Bates' promotion.

It was a trying two years, with the Broncos going 5-16 in Bates' first season, and 8-23 in his second. Western Michigan was 4-16 in the MAC this season, and didn't qualify for the MAC tournament, which gets uthis week in Cleveland.

At one point this season, Western Michigan lost 14 straight games, and started 0-13 in MAC play, before beating rival Central Michigan, 77-63, at home Feb. 12. Fan interest in the program had plummeted to troubling depths; this season, the program had sold 250 season tickets.

Bates' departure means all three state MAC schools will have hired new coaches within the last calendar year. Eastern Michigan hired Stan Heath last year, and Central Michigan Tony Barbee.

Bates was hired on a two-year deal worth $220,000 annually plus bonuses. A third year was later awarded. After he was hired, star players Michael Flowers (South Alabama) and Brandon Johnson (Minnesota) transferred.

"These past two years as the head coach of the Broncos have been a special experience for my family and me" Bates said in a statement. "My most sincere appreciation to all members of the Western Michigan University athletic department for their efforts and hard work on behalf of the men's basketball program. Thank you to our loyal dedicated coaching and support staff, who worked tirelessly to help the young men in our program grow and develop, both on and off the court.

"Most importantly, thank you to the student-athletes. It has been an honor and a privilege to be a member of your team. We wanted every day we took the court to be the best two hours of our day. It always was for me, and I am grateful for our time together. Thank you for giving your very best. Bronco basketball is positioned for great success in the coming years."

Western Michigan has begun a national search, with the DHR Global Sports Practice firm assisting.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984