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UC Irvine Gives Baker a Quick Dispatch

March 03, 1997|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What has been predicted and expected happened quickly. Less than 24 hours after UC Irvine's last game, Rod Baker was informed he would not be back as coach.

Athletic Director Dan Guerrero told Baker in a Sunday-morning meeting that his contract would not be renewed. Guerrero also met with Baker's staff and the team.

Guerrero had said repeatedly he would make a decision at the end of the season, but he moved quicker than most anticipated.

"I think it was clearly in the best interest of the university, the program and for Rod to minimize the speculation and render a decision as quickly as possible," Guerrero said.

"My job is to evaluate the overall success of the program, which does include wins and losses, but there are also many things off the court to consider. After assessing our situation, this is not where we believe the program should be after six years."

Guerrero said the search for a new coach will begin this week.

The Anteaters lost to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Saturday, 84-78, to finish 1-25 and set a school record for losses. They lost seven games by 30 or more points and attendance at home games was the lowest since the Bren Center opened in 1987.

But this season was not the sole reason for Baker's departure, merely the last act. Baker had a 52-116 record and had only one winning season in six.

The speed of the decision caught the Irvine players by surprise. They had met with Guerrero for 15 minutes Friday to discuss the situation and express support for Baker.

Said freshman forward Brian Johnson: "We have our last game, go to sleep and wake to a phone call saying our coach is gone. It's like a soap opera.

"I honestly thought he was going to be back."

But Baker's departure had been predicted since last spring when four players, including two starters, left the program after a 15-12 season.

Additionally, Baker, 44, had attempted to leave. He interviewed for the head coaching position at Maine in July, but later withdrew his name.

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