Written by Chris Kubala
The college basketball season ended with a whimper as the COVID-19 pandemic robbed college athletes, not to mention the fans of the sport, saw things grind to a halt in the middle of conference tournaments. We didn’t see who won postseason conference tournaments in any of the power conferences like the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, SEC or Pac-12 before things were halted. There was no March Madness, ruining an entire year of college hoops and making for a confusing situation regarding players who chose to transfer to new schools, not to mention the fact that there was no champion to crown.
Then, of course, there are the coaching hirings and firings that inevitably come up when a season comes to a close. Sometimes, those decisions are obvious because a team completely struggled or had off-court issues that could be an issue. There are those times when coaches choose to step down, either to take another job or because they’re burned out. Occasionally, there’s enough bad blood in the dissolution of a coach/university breakup that leads to a potential blowup and in some cases, legal action. That’s where the situation with Dan Majerle and Grand Canyon University currently stands.
Majerle, who was fired in March after seven years as the head coach at the school, filed a lawsuit against Grand Canyon University, alleging breach of contract. In the lawsuit, Thunder Dan stated that the school failed to provide reasoning for his dismissal and that the school has failed to pay any severance to him at this point. His contract ran through the 2022-23 season. In addition, Majerle alleges that the school has begun a campaign to disparage Majerle as part of its effort to avoid its severance obligation.”
For its part, the school is pleading ignorance of the situation, saying that they would be unable to comment further until they had a chance to review the suit in its entirety:
“The university hired Coach Majerle when he had no prior head coaching experience and no college coaching experience with the greatest hope and belief that he would lead the men’s basketball program for 20-plus years. The university financially supported Coach Majerle and the men’s basketball program at the highest level during his seven-year tenure and wanted nothing but the best for him and the program. We regret that Coach Majerle’s tenure had to end the way it did, but the university is prepared to defend itself and its decision if necessary should Coach Majerle decide to continue with litigation. GCU is unable to comment further until such time as it receives a copy of Coach Majerle’s complaint and has an opportunity to review his allegations.”
Majerle posted a 136-89 record in his tenure with the school. His teams finished in the top three of the WAC standings in each of his first six years with the program. He took over a program that was just starting its time as a Division I program and had some success. None of Majerle’s teams finished below .500 in conference play and his 13-17 mark in 2019-20 was the lone time that his team finished under the .500 mark overall. Grand Canyon had four straight seasons with at least 20 wins between 2015-16 through 2018-19, including a 27-7 mark in 2015-16. During that run, the program made three appearances in the CIT and two appearances in the CBI.
Majerle was replaced by Bryce Drew, who has coached at Valparaiso and Vanderbilt in his career. It’s been a story with two different endings for him. He was 124-49 with four regular season Horizon League crowns, two Horizon League tournament titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances. Once he got to Vanderbilt, the Midas touch wore off, as he was 40-59 in three years with one tournament appearance. He was fired after the 2018-19 season.
How this inevitably pans out is going to be interesting. Likely, there are going to be no winners in this situation. The school is still trying to make its way to becoming a threat at the Division I level and that is no easy task. Having the backlash over a lawsuit from the first coach that the school had at the D-I level is going to cast a pall on the program. For Majerle, it’s a matter of whether another program will be interested in bringing him on in a head coaching capacity or if he’ll have to go the assistant route again in order to get back to the top rung of the ladder.