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It was announced Monday that the La Salle Explorers men’s basketball team would be undergoing yet another major upheaval with the firing of head coach Ashley Howard. Howard has been with the team for four seasons, and does not have a stellar record to show for his time. La Salle finished with an 11-19 record this season.
As is suggested in an ESPN article by Jeff Borzello, “[coaching] La Salle is considered arguably the most difficult job in the Atlantic 10 due to its resources and facilities.” But Howard is from Philly, was an assistant coach at Villanova for five seasons and was there when they won the national championship in 2016 and 2018 and had worked with La Salle in the past. If anyone was willing, ready and up to the task, seemingly, it was Howard. But, it appears that it just was not meant to be.
To the defense of Howard, he was brought to La Salle with hopes he would copy and paste Villanova’s success here at our humble school. Copy Villanova’s program, a school that has over $1.88 billion in assets… yeah maybe someone here was expecting a little much from Howard, but he was expected to mirror the success, and, to that end, he failed.
Some are speculating that this change comes as La Salle welcomes its new President Daniel Allen, hoping that with a new executive staff, a plan can be forged to bring La Salle into a new financial era, with the basketball team playing a part in that change. Whether this means taking a gamble on a head coach and pouring even more resources into it, or finally letting the giant die in exchange for a different approach to athletic promotion, it is unknown.
“It’s a wonderful game but it’s a difficult business,” Howard said to the Inquirer. Taking a look at the more than $1 billion in revenues generated by March Madness, and all of the money the Big Five in Philly invest into their teams just to get a shot at greatness, we’d agree it is a difficult business, and it’s just that, business. Basketball at a college level is no longer a game, it’s an investment, and it’s about time that La Salle realized they’re making the same bad investments over and over again.
While genuinely do not believe Howard had any ill intent when coming to La Salle, this fact needs to be considered: In exchange for a cut in salary, Howard extended his contract by two years in 2020 and received a buyout upon his termination, and if Giannini’s path is anything to be followed, signing a $500,000 annual contract and then tanking the team seems like a great way to make some quick cash. Just saying.
There is some on-campus controversy surrounds the firing, as it took place one day before La Salle’s annual day of giving and was announced under the radar. Some believe that this action makes the school look bad, as they got rid of a large investment one day before asking for money. Others believe that the timing was perfect, as it showed donors that La Salle carried an attitude that shows that poor performance will no longer be tolerated.
Opinions about Howard
We asked various students around La Salle what they had to say, and the responses varied from person to person, although their reaction was mostly negative. While some viewed him as a good coach, many others had vastly more biting emotions towards Howard. For the sharpest of all, please check out our Sports section to see what editor Enrique Carrasco had to say about Howard’s firing. (Spoilers: He doesn’t exactly give him a glowing review.)
One student who chose to remain anonymous stated, “It needed to happen. The basketball team only got worse under him.” Another simply said, “He sucked.” Despite these comments, not all thoughts were negative. Some students stated that he was a “great coach.”
Sedin ‘22 also stated,”[Howard] wasn’t the best. Looked like he knew what he talked about, but I doubt he actually did.” Jake ‘22 stated, “I think he expected to be able to work with what La Salle was giving him and didn’t fully understand how much goes into running a team with as little resources as we have. He thought he could think outside the box to help the team succeed, but wasn’t able to.”
Andrew ‘23 had something interesting to say when he stated, “When he was chosen to succeed Giannini in 2018, Coach Howard was definitely the best choice. He played basketball for Drexel and under Jay Wright was instrumental in building two national championship teams at Villanova. However, at La Salle, it seemed like Howard was never genuinely interested. It seemed like every year, we would finish with a frustrating record and then be forced to build a new team due to the high frequency of transfers.”
The opinions on who should replace Howard were some of the most varied we received. A few people stated that they’d like to see La Salle alum Tim Leger take over the reins. Others said that they’d like to see Matt Langel. Overall, though, most people had no idea who should come in to replace him, but most believe it should be a coach new to the system.
So, if Howard got cut, John Giannini got cut and La Salle has been nowhere near the NCAA March Madness tournament since 2013, in which they were beaten by Wichita State, there aren’t many routes left for La Salle to take.
In exchange for a cut in salary, Howard extended his contract by two years in 2020 and received a buyout upon his termination. Also, if Giannini’s path is anything to be followed, signing a $750,000 annual contract and then tanking the team seems like a great way to make some quick cash. Just saying.
Maybe the solution to La Salle’s woes doesn’t really lie with the coaching staff of the Explorers; maybe it doesn’t lie with the basketball team at all. When the major sports schism occurred in September of 2020, athletic director Brian Baptiste said that “It’s important to note that this is not a cost-cutting decision, but rather a strategic effort to reallocate our investment in a way that better aligns with our student-centered mission.” Well, since then, Gianni’s $700,000+ annual salary and the bountiful wealth “reallocated” from the other sports into men’s basketball has borne a 9-16 losing season, an 11-19 losing season and continually low placements in the Atlantic 10 power rankings.
La Salle parades their men’s basketball team like it’s something to be proud of, and simply put: it’s shameful. All one has to do is look at the women’s basketball team’s 16-12 record and top five ranking in the A10 compared to the men’s 12th place rank. We can go on. Men’s cross country: A10 champions, women’s cross country: we have the Mancini sisters and that’s enough said. Field hockey has a .429 and women’s soccer has a .450 win rate. Not stellar, top ranking scores, but compared to the men’s basketball .278, it just speaks for itself.
For some members of the Editorial Board not particularly interested in sports, but more interested in seeing La Salle stay open, we think that flushing funds and resources into more successful sports and working to engage the student body in those will be more fruitful than the continuous efforts to have students attend a men’s basketball game in which the Explorers will likely lose.
Yes, we are aware that these other sports may not boast as fierce a competition as men’s basketball, arguably the sport with the most talent in the whole NCAA what with recruiting, bracketing and the money that comes with it at an all-time high. But, if La Salle could just allocate a fraction of the funds they put toward the basketball team toward their actually good teams and their academic endeavors, recruitment would go up, the campus experience would be improved and as a result, recruiting for basketball would loosen up and who knows… if La Salle stopped propping itself up on a losing team, maybe they would be able to claw out of this hole the pandemic has left them in.