After agonizing over the alternatives for two grueling days, Gary Waters finally decided to leave his Kent State men's basketball post in order to accept a position as head coach at Rutgers on Thursday.
Waters' lawyers and Scarlet Knights officials negotiated for over nine hours until after 1 a.m. this morning before finalizing a contract, which is a seven-year deal reportedly worth over $3 million.
"I want to be fairly compensated for my services, but I'm not going to Rutgers for the money," said Waters. "I look at this as an upward movement to a prestigious school in a powerful conference in the Big East, where I don't have to win the conference tournament every year to get an NCAA Tournament berth.
"I also feel supported by their administration, and the recruiting base in the New Jersey-New York area is one of the best in the country."
Waters, who led the Golden Flashes to unprecedented heights during his five-year tenure, admitted that the choice was far from easy.
"I struggled with it for three reasons," said Waters. "No. 1 is the kids. I love my players more than anything. No. 2 is the outstanding support from (KSU president Carol Cartwright) that I've been given, and No. 3 is that I've had an athletic director in Laing Kennedy who understands me."
Still Waters decided to part ways with a veteran KSU team that earned a school-record 24 wins and captured the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament triumph last month in order to take over the struggling Scarlet Knights, who finished 11-16 overall and 3-13 in the rugged Big East last winter.
Four other current collegiate head coaches pulled out of the running for the Rutgers job before it was offered to Waters, but that fact didn't seem to phase him.
"I don't think it was the right fit for those guys," said Waters. "It wasn't the right fit for the guys that coached there before, and that's why they weren't successful. But I believe it fits a lot of things that are strong about me. I took over Kent State when it was in a similar developmental stage, and I look forward to the opportunity to help the Rutgers program improve."
Waters compiled a 92-60 record in five seasons while guiding the Flashes to a pair of MAC Tournament titles (1999, '01). Kent State qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 1999, and has earned postseason tourney berths for three straight years.
Waters was a serious contender for head coaching positions at Houston, Miami of Florida and Northwestern last year, and was a candidate for the Michigan post filled just last month. Tulsa officials also contacted Waters on Wednesday about their school's current coaching vacancy.
Waters arrived on campus in New Brunswick on Monday and was offered the job after interviewing with Scarlet Knights athletic director Bob Mulcahy on Tuesday.
"It's not something I searched for," said Waters. "It's an opportunity that found me. I'm not the kind of guy that moves just for the sake of moving. "
Waters' former players are sorry to see him go, but they understand his reasoning.
"He has a better chance to go to the Final Four (at Rutgers), and that's one of his dreams," said Demetric Shaw. "I'm just thankful I was blessed with the opportunity to learn from such a great man. I love coach."
Kent State director of athletics Laing Kennedy, contacted in Alabama early this morning, said he would like Waters to be involved in his search for a new head coach.
"I'm going to rely on Gary to help us find a replacement," said Kennedy, who is attending the NCAA Regional Gymnastics Championships along with the Flashes this weekend. "I respect Gary for what he's done for our program and our university. We're on a road we've never been down before, and I want to stay there."
Potential candidates to replace Waters include current Wisconsin assistant Shawn Hood, who was a finalist for the KSU job when Waters was hired in '96.
Kennedy refused to name any candidates, but said he would consider Kent State assistants Kevin Heck and Garland Mance if Waters recommends them. Fellow assistant Larry DeSimpelare will move on to Rutgers along with Waters.
"Our assistants have done a tremendous job," said Kennedy. "If Gary tells me to, I will certainly talk to them."
Kennedy said he expects to choose a coach relatively soon.
"We've known this could happen, so we're prepared," said Kennedy. "I've already been on the phone talking to people, seeing what we can get lined up. We're going to let today through Sunday be Gary's time, then starting Monday I'll get after it 100 percent. I have no set timetable, but I don't think it will take very long once we get the groundwork underway."
Waters is confident the Flashes will prosper without him.
"We've built a strong enough foundation that they can weather any storm," he said.
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