Saddi Washington staying at Michigan after declining WMU job for second time

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

For Saddi Washington, the option again was there to go home again. But he continues to choose not to.

Washington, if he hasn't already, is expected to sign an extension to remain an assistant basketball coach at Michigan after informing Western Michigan earlier this week that he is not going to accept its head-coaching position, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the school's search and Washington's thinking.

Washington, 46, a Lansing native and the Broncos' sixth-leading all-time scorer, was among the first candidates new WMU athletic director Dan Bartholomae reached out to at the start of the search. This was the second consecutive cycle Washington was a top target of WMU. He was offered the job two years ago when the university moved on from Steve Hawkins, but turned it down. While a top target, he wasn't technically offered the job this time, before he decided Michigan was where he wanted to be, sources said.

Assistant coach Saddi Washington gives instructions in the second half.

Washington has not returned multiple messages from The Detroit News.

Two years ago, when turning down the Western Michigan job, he told The News it was a "very tough" decision, but attributed his family's comfort and affinity for Ann Arbor — Washington and wife Channon have a daughter, Sidney, and son, Caleb — as the tipping point in staying put.

Money also was at least somewhat of an issue two years ago, as WMU launched its search just before the pandemic. After Washington turned down WMU, the school issued an external hiring freeze, and promoted assistant coach Clayton Bates on a two-year deal (which eventually became three) worth $220,000 a year. Western Michigan is prepared to pay its next coach at least 50% more than that this time, a source said.

"The fact of the matter is," Bartholomae told The News in February, "there's room to grow our budget."

Washington made $330,000 this past season, the last on his contract at UM. All of Juwan Howard's assistants at Michigan were on contracts that expire April 30.

Bartholomae, in his first months as Western Michigan's athletic director, is expected to travel to the Final Four in New Orleans this weekend and interview multiple candidates, a source said. Western Michigan, which has hired the DHR Global Sports Practice search firm, has received interest from coaches who've taken teams to the NCAA Tournament, that source said. There is believed to be a leading candidate in Washington's absence, and a hire could come as soon as the end of this weekend.

Another popular in-state assistant coach, Michigan State's Dwayne Stephens, spoke to previous AD Kathy Beauregard about the opening in 2020, at Tom Izzo's urging. It's unclear if he's being considered this time. Stephens hadn't spoken to WMU as of late last week, a source said.

This is the first major hire for Bartholomae since he took over. WMU fired Bates after he went 13-39, including 8-23 this past season. (He was done no favors by two big transfers after Hawkins was let go.) Interest in Broncos men's basketball had waned so much that the program only sold about 250 season tickets this season, a source said. That pales in comparison to hockey, which sold 1,110 this season.

Sparking interest would suggest a notable-name hire, perhaps a coach who's been at a Power Five and is trying to rejuvenate their resume, like Stan Heath at Eastern Michigan or Frank Martin at UMass. Money isn't expected to be an issue in this hire, as WMU athletics recently received a $50 million donation, and the school's finances, like at most schools, are in a much better place than early in the pandemic.

But facilities are a significant problem at Western Michigan, and at least was a factor in Washington's decision, a source said. He's considered an excellent recruiter, and outdated facilities are a major hindrance in recruiting. Western Michigan has no practice facility, sharing the basketball arena with women's basketball, women's track, volleyball and cheerleading. Western Michigan and Miami (Ohio) have what most consider the worst basketball facilities in the Mid-American Conference — WMU also badly trails quality of facilities at state rivals Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan — and, according to a source, Bartholomae couldn't commit to definitive infrastructure upgrades in the near future.

In the last 20 years, WMU basketball facility upgrades have consisted only of improved locker rooms.

Washington also is choosing to be very selective about his next step. He's long been considered a coach in waiting for a high-mid-major or Power Five job. In an era of high turnover, taking the wrong job that doesn't work out could set back his promising career arc.

Washington began his coaching career as a volunteer coach at Romulus High School, under now-Alabama coach Nate Oats. He was an assistant coach under Greg Kampe at Oakland from 2006-16, serving as associate head coach from 2013-16. Washington joined John Beilein's staff at Michigan in 2016, and stayed under Howard. He took on an expanded role late in the regular season, with Howard suspended five games following an altercation with a Wisconsin coach. He's been on staff at Michigan for five Sweet 16 appearances, two Elite Eight runs and a runner-up showing in 2018.

A Lansing Sexton alum, he played at Western Michigan from 1994-98, scoring 1,688 points and leading the Broncos to the 1998 NCAA Tournament.

Western Michigan will give the state its third new MAC coach in the last years, after Heath took over at EMU for Rob Murphy and Tony Barbee replaced Keno Davis last year.

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984