Coach Saul Phillips paced the sidelines Monday night, arms folded, as the seconds ticked down.
After a couple weeks filled with hope and a resurgent offense, the Bobcats crumpled at Northern Illinois in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament. The 80-61 loss to the Huskies in the Convocation Center ended Ohio’s season.
Now, after a season filled of uncertainty, athletic director Jim Schaus will be charged with deciding the future of Ohio basketball. Keep Phillips, the quirky fifth-year coach whose contract expires in May or part ways and start a new beginning.
In the last five seasons, the Bobcats’ have gone 81-76 with back-to-back 20-win seasons in years two and three under Phillips’. But as of late, they’ve finished with back-to-back losing seasons and a loss in the first round of the tournament two straight times.
Ohio’s just 2-5 in the MAC Tournament under Phillips.
Over five seasons, his teams have had turnover and injury problems. He’s had eight players transfer. 2016 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year Antonio Campbell never finished his senior season due to injury. James Gollon likely won’t play again in his career, he only played a full season as a Bobcat. One of the top 3-point shooters in the country, Jordan Dartis, has undergone multiple hip surgeries and hasn’t played since last season.
Lately, Phillips has had to rely on teams littered with minimal playing experience and loads of youth.
Monday night was no different. Two seniors played in the loss — Doug Taylor and Gavin Block — and three underclassmen got the start. Earlier in the day Ben Vander Plas and Jason Preston were named to the All-MAC Freshman team, showing yet against the young talent on the Bobcats’ roster.
Ohio completed back-to-back losing seasons Monday night for the first time since 2002-03 and 2003-04, when it was coached by Tim O’Shea. If Ohio cuts ties before May 15, it will be contractually responsible to pay Phillips a percentage of $550,000 that’s equal to the number of days remaining in year five divided by the number of days in year five of the contract.
He’s the highest paid employee on campus, and his base salary is the second highest of men’s basketball coaches in the conference.
The future is uncertain, and now, the ball is in Schaus’ court. Phillips went the entire season not commenting on the situation, solely focused on the present. Now, with five years of a sample size, the athletic director who hired Phillips will have to decide if he wants to keep him or not.
Only time will tell what the future holds.