Arizona Wildcats associate head coach James Whitford was named the head coach at Ball State this morning.
Whitford withdrew from consideration over the Miami (Ohio) job last spring but found this was different.
"In my mind, Ball State offers the best combination of academic excellence, basketball tradition, outstanding arena and fan support of any school in the Mid-American Conference," Whitford said in a statement. "When you add the unparalleled recruiting base in the state of Indiana and the great teaching those high school players receive from their various coaches, this job became one I targeted over the last few weeks.”
Whitfod has been unavailable for comment so far today but he told the Star-Press of Muncie, Ind. that he has had four head coaching opportunities in the past two years.
"I didn't like the way our season ended a year ago, and I had a little bit of a bitter taste in my mouth," Whitford said. "We had come out there to accomplish certain things, and I wanted to be with Sean (Miller) long enough to get the program back to where it should be, and it is. We got back to the Sweet 16 this year, and we're going to be preseason to win the conference and we'll be one of the teams picked to win the national title.
"I think it's a good time for me to leave and a good time in the sense for the program that they're not going to skip a beat. It's come far enough in Arizona where I think we can continue building with or without me."
Whitford becomes the second UA assistant coach to leave for a head coaching job in the past three seasons, after then-associate head coach Archie Miller left to become Dayton's head coach in 2011.
Whitford has worked under Sean Miller for eight seasons, four at Xavier and four at Arizona, and he said it will be hard to leave.
"He's not only one of the best coaches, but more importantly to me he's one of the best people I've ever been around," Whitford told the Star-Press. "He's been a great friend. He's been extremely supportive. When you're with someone as long as I am with him, I've seen him in a lot of situations, and there's times he'll give me advice that's not good for him, but it's good for me. He's always had my best interest at heart.
"He was quick to tell me, I've had four jobs and only one that he's told me to take and that's Ball State."
Before working with Miller, Whitford gained extensive experience in the Mid-American Conference, working under Charlie Coles at Miami from 1997-2005.
Miami reached the NCAA tournament twice and won four regular-season MAC championships with Whitford as a fulltime coach on Coles' staff.
Coles raved about Whitford in a Star-Press story on Whitford's hiring while Ball State AD Bill Scholl said Whitford's experience and vision made him the choice.
“We are thrilled to add James Whitford to the Ball State family as our new men’s basketball head coach,” Scholl said in a statement. “In a very talented pool of candidates, James separated himself from the pack based on the success he has experienced at multiple institutions and the vision he has for Ball State basketball.”
Ball State's statement cited Whitford's work with UA big men, including Derrick Williams, as well as his role as a defensive coordinator for a team that allowed fewer than 64 points per game in each of the past two seasons.
“James is a tireless worker and a relentless recruiter who has helped Miami, Xavier and Arizona all experience tremendous success within their respective conferences and the NCAA Tournament,” Scholl said. “He prides himself in developing young men on and off the basketball court and has an infectious positive energy that will be great for our program."
Ball State was 15-15 overall and 8-8 in MAC play this season The school fired coach Billy Taylor last month after he went 84-99 in six seasons. Taylor took Ball State to McKale Center on Nov. 13, 2011, when the Wildcats beat the Cardinals 73-63.
A Certified Public Accountant, Taylor took over the Cardinals in August 2007, when Ball State was reeling from former coach Ronny Thompson’s messy departure after one season. He had just nine players that first year and the Cardinals finished 6-24, while trying to repair so many frayed nerves.
“It was really a significant challenge for myself and the coaching staff,” Taylor told the Star in 2011. “We had a lot of kids who left the program. It’s been a process and one that certainly doesn’t happen overnight.”
A native of Madison, Wis., Whitford is also a 1994 graduate of Wisconsin. His wife, Amber, was an assistant coach at Xavier before moving to Tucson in 2009.
Whitford is scheduled to be formally introduced as the Cardinals' coach on Wednesday in Muncie, Ind.
“My wife and I look forward to getting our family on campus, meeting our team and introducing ourselves to our students and fans,” Whitford said. “I am incredibly honored and humbled to be the next men’s basketball coach at Ball State University and cannot wait to get started on returning us to the top of the MAC.”