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Ashley Howard out at La Salle after four seasons as head coach

The former Villanova assistant amassed just a 45-71 overall record with the Explorers after replacing John Giannini in 2018.

Ashley Howard it out after four years at La Salle.
Ashley Howard it out after four years at La Salle.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

La Salle let Ashley Howard go as head men’s basketball coach Monday, deciding four seasons was enough after the Explorers finished 11-19 this season, and 5-13 in the Atlantic 10.

After Howard replaced John Giannini in 2018, Howard went 45-71, and 25-46 in A-10 play.

“I would like to thank Ash for the guidance he provided to our student-athletes over the last four years,” La Salle athletic director Brian Baptiste said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the performance on the court did not meet our expectations. The time is right for a change in leadership that will benefit our student-athletes and the future of the program. We wish Ash, his wife, Ari, daughter, Journey, and son, Ace, nothing but the best in their next chapter.”

Asked how long an evaluation had been going on, Baptiste said over the phone late Monday afternoon, “I would say even before the season ended. Just continuing to evaluate the program. Certainly we didn’t have the year that we expected.”

The school announced assistant coach Kyle Griffin would serve as interim head coach and “a national search for a new head coach will begin immediately.”

Of that search, Baptiste said he knows it sounds general and boiler plate to say they want to find the best candidate possible that fits La Salle.

“La Salle is a special place, and a unique place,” he said. “There’s uniqueness about Philadelphia and the Big 5 and the history. Somebody really understanding this community, I think that’s important.”

He added, “The league is only getting more competitive.”

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According to a source familiar with Howard’s contract, he was making roughly $500,000 a year but a couple of years ago, amid COVID-19 related financial shortfalls at La Salle, Howard agreed to cut his salary to $465,000. At that time, the source said, two more years were added to his contract.

“He’s got four years left,” the La Salle source said. “I can’t figure out how they’re going to pay for it.”

“My buyout isn’t anything crazy,” Howard said. “I think the reality here is that I didn’t win enough. La Salle has to do what’s best for them moving forward.”

It all happened quickly, though. As recently as Saturday, one source said that Howard was talking to staff members about changes in his staff. Monday morning, he was meeting with Baptiste and was out himself. Baptiste said there may have been internal staff discussions but suggested there was no sudden change in direction.

La Salle has a new president, Daniel Allen, so the president and athletic director who hired Howard are no longer there.

“They have big plans to take the university in another direction, and they didn’t feel I was the right person to help them get them in the direction they wanted to go,” Howard said by phone Monday afternoon. “I felt like I did everything I could to make La Salle competitive in the Atlantic 10 and the Big Five. I have no ill will toward La Salle. They gave me an opportunity to be the first African American head coach in the school’s history. I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to take the team further.”

He said La Salle had given him two opportunities, for his first full-time assistant-coaching job, under John Giannini at age 23, then as head coach. The Drexel graduate seemed to be the right fit when La Salle hired Howard after he’d been Jay Wright’s top assistant for the 2018 NCAA title and also had been on the staff for the 2016 title. He had a huge hand, for instance, in identifying Collin Gillespie as a potential Villanova player and selling Wright on bringing Gillespie there.

He quickly found at La Salle, Howard said a number of times, that he couldn’t simply re-create Villanova’s program. It didn’t necessarily translate. And recruiting obstacles didn’t suddenly go away just because of Howard’s many strong connections in the city. Players transferring out was an issue, even as new players came in from the transfer portal.

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“Nothing but love and pride in La Salle,” Howard said. “There’s no bitterness or hard feelings at all. Obviously, there will be opportunities. I feel like I have a pretty good reputation. For now, I just want to focus on my family and myself for once. I’ve been running this rat race for a long time, since I was a grad assistant for Drexel. I could use some time just to figure things out.”

In terms of facilities and overall commitment, “I think La Salle understands the challenges more than ever,” Howard said. “They are committed to do whatever they have to do to get the program back on the right footing. I think this decision by the university is a decision to create more excellence around the program, getting the support they’re going to need that it takes to be successful.”

It’s just business, is what Howard was saying.

“It’s a wonderful game,” he said. “But it’s a difficult business.”