Michigan Fires Coach Ellerbe

After four years at the helm of Michigan's basketball program, Brian Ellerbe was forced out, the athletic director said today.

"Brian took over this team in the midst of some trying times, and we all realize the challenges he has faced. I considered this during my evaluation of the team," Bill Martin said in a written statement. He asked Ellerbe to step down Sunday.

"In the end, my decision was based on the fact that I did not see the improvement in the program over the past four years that I hoped for and that I believe is possible. I believe it is in the best interests of our student-athletes and the basketball program as a whole to have new leadership at this time."

Coach: I Performed With Integrity

In a statement obtained by the Detroit Free Press earlier in the day, Ellerbe expressed his thanks for the opportunity to coach the Wolverines.

"When I took this assignment, I knew our program faced several issues that were left for us to deal with," Ellerbe said in the statement on Free Press' Web site. "I also knew that returning the program to competitive standards commensurate with Michigan's rich athletic tradition would not be done overnight.

"I am confident I fulfilled the guidelines established by president [Lee] Bollinger and Tom Goss by running our program with integrity."

Search for Successor Begins

The Wolverines closed out a disappointing season with an 82-80 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament. Michigan finished the season at 10-18 overall and 4-12 in the Big Ten.

Martin said he will create a small advisory committee of former and current players and staff to help evaluate potential candidates.

On Monday, a source, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the school would like to talk to Rick Pitino, Kentucky's Tubby Smith, Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson or Seton Hall's Tommy Amaker.

Pitino, who left the Boston Celtics this year, is eyeing a return to college basketball. He led Kentucky to the 1996 national championship.

Was Race an Issue in Firing?

Michigan's fan base went from apathetic to angry and shouted, "Fire Ellerbe," among other things, during games at Crisler Arena this season. Newspaper columnists have written that it was time for him to be fired.

Ellerbe went 62-60 in four years at Michigan. He was originally hired to be an assistant coach, but he replaced Steve Fisher, who was forced to leave when allegations that booster Ed Martin lavished Wolverines with money and gifts became public.

Michigan will have to pay Ellerbe about $450,000 for the remaining three years on his contract. The university will not have to pay for income he will lose from camps, TV, radio, Internet and endorsement deals, according to the terms of his contract.

Meanwhile, the president of the Detroit chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other community leaders have expressed concerns to University of Michigan officials about the treatment of Ellerbe and whether it would be fair to fire him.

The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, sent a letter to Bollinger this week questioning whether Ellerbe is being held to an unfair standard because he is black.

"My deepest, heartfelt thanks goes out to the many community leaders and alumni who came forward in recent days to support me and my program," Ellerbe said in the statement. "I cannot thank you enough for your thoughts and expressions of concern."

In the statement, Ellerbe avoided any bitterness — or mention of Martin.

"As for me," he said in closing, "I have tried to handle myself with dignity and class through some very challenging times. I look forward to receiving an opportunity to continue my career in a game I truly love."