March 14, 2008
Willis Wilson, who has coached more basketball games at Rice University than any other coach, will not be retained to coach the Owls next season, Rice Director of Athletics Chris Del Conte announced on Friday.
"We all appreciate everything that Willis Wilson has done for Rice University and our basketball team," Del Conte said. "He has done a wonderful job with our student athletes and has given so much of himself to Rice. But after much thought, I came to the conclusion that it was best for everyone that we move in a new direction," he added.
The Owls concluded the 2007-08 season on Wednesday night with a 59-50 loss to Southern Miss in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament. They finished with an overall record of 3-27, including an 0-16 mark in conference play.
Wilson compiled a career mark of 219-246 in his 16 years as the head coach of the Owls. His totals of 219 victories and 465 games are school marks, as are his 16 seasons as the head coach.
He led the team to three NIT appearances, the first in his inaugural season as the Owls head coach in 1993, and then in back-to-back appearances in 2004 and 2005. The 2004 season saw the Owls win a career-high 22 games for Wilson, and he became the first Rice coach to be selected as the National Association of Basketball Coaches District 9 coach of the year since the award began in 1970.
His 1998-99 team posted the third-best turnaround in NCAA history, winning 18 games after posting just six wins the year before. Last season, Wilson coached the Conference USA Player of the Year, the nation's third-leading scorer, and first-round NBA draft pick Morris Almond. Almond was third in the country in leading all of C-USA in scoring for the second-straight season at 26.1 points per game after averaging 21.9 as junior in 2006.
Wilson was a four-year letterman for the Owls from 1979-82 and was co-captain of the 1982 team. He began his coaching career that fall as an assistant basketball and track coach at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston. He returned to Rice for one season as an assistant in 1985, then took the head coaching job at Strake in 1986.
He returned to Rice as an assistant from 1988-91, then spent one year as an assistant coach at Stanford in 1992, before returning once again to South Main in 1993, this time as the 22nd head basketball coach of the Owls.
Del Conte said that the Owls will immediately begin a nation-wide search for Wilson's replacement.