Steele departs after NIT win, leaving Muskies to speculate the future of MBB
By Joe Clark, Sports EDitor
Vice President and Director of Athletics Greg Christopher announced on Wednesday afternoon that Xavier and former men’s basketball head coach Travis Steele mutually agreed to part ways.
The decision comes after an 18-13 regular season that saw the Musketeers miss the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year a tournament was held. The 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled due to COVID-19. Xavier has also lost in the opening round of the Big East Tournament each of the past three years.
“I want to thank Travis and his staff for their tireless efforts on behalf of the Xavier basketball program,” Christopher said. “Travis led the team with the utmost character and in a first-class manner. He navigated us through a difficult time with (COVID-19) and always focused on what was best for our student-athletes.”
“I have tremendous respect for Travis, and he’s been a part of Xavier basketball for more than a decade, playing an important role in some of the program’s greatest accomplishments. We collectively appreciate all that Travis has given to Xavier and wish him the best moving forward,” he continued.
“I appreciate the opportunity to lead Xavier men’s basketball the past four years,” Steele said. “I am excited for the next chapter in my life, and I wish Xavier nothing but success.”
The Musketeers finished the 2021-22 regular season as losers of 10 of their 14 games, including a first-round loss to Butler in the Big East Tournament.
Steele exits Xavier with a record of 70-50 and 31-37 in the Big East. His last game was a 72-68 win over Cleveland State in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) on Tuesday night. Xavier Associate Head Coach Jonas Hayes will serve as the interim coach for the Musketeers in their next NIT game on Sunday.
The last three years of Xavier basketball have ended with late-season collapses, as the 2019-20 team lost three straight games including a Big East Tournament match against DePaul to end the season. The 2020-21 team lost three straight games and four out of their last five to close out the season.
In last year’s Big East Tournament matchup against Butler, Xavier blew a 17-point halftime lead and lost in overtime. Similarly, this year the Musketeers were up by six points with under a minute left but couldn’t close out the Bulldogs, and lost in overtime.
This season’s collapse was much more pronounced than prior years, as their losing stretch included a five-game losing streak before a win against Georgetown in the last game of the regular season.
Current and former players reacted to the news via social media, with senior guard Nate Johnson tweeting: “Thank you for giving me the opportunity, @CoachSteeleXU. Forever grateful.”
James Farr, who played for Xavier from 2012-16 when Steele was an assistant coach, echoed the sentiment.
“Coach Steele…Thank you for everything you have done for the University of Xavier,” Farr wrote on Twitter. “Xavier isn’t Xavier without you and will not be the same… Good luck in the future.”
The athletics office announced that a national search will begin immediately, and multiple online sources have said that former Xavier coach Sean Miller was on campus yesterday. His presence has sparked rumors about his potential candidacy for the role.
Miller was also in attendance at the Xavier game against UConn on Feb. 11 and was successful at both Xavier and the University of Arizona. Miller took the Wildcats to three Elite Eights during his tenure and led the Musketeers to an Elite Eight in 2008.
“Our expectations for Xavier basketball remain steadfast: We expect to compete for the Big East Championship and to compete and advance in the NCAA tournament,” Christopher said.
Xavier’s season will continue on Sunday when the Musketeers face Florida.