Fired Cal Poly men’s basketball Coach Joe Callero will receive a $137,000 buyout for the remaining year on his contract, which will be absorbed by the university’s athletic budget.
Athletic Director Don Oberhelman held a press conference Sunday night, announcing the next steps for the program and team, which finished in last place this season in the Big West Conference after Saturday night’s 92-82 loss to rival UC Santa Barbara.
“We had several years of not improving,” Oberhelman said. “I think we’d proven ourselves very, very patient in terms of what our win-loss record was. We need to be in the hunt for titles. I’m not saying we’re going to win a Big West title every year, but we need to be in the hunt.”
Oberhelman’s goal is for college athletes to leave Cal Poly with a degree and a championship title to their names, he said.
Callero’s buyout will essentially cover about half of his total yearly base salary, Oberhelman said, which was $268,386 in 2018, according to the Sacramento Bee’s public employee salary database, making Callero the highest paid athletic coach at Cal Poly.
“We’ll absorb that money through the athletic department budget and figure it out,” Oberhelman said. “It’s not an insignificant sum, but we can weather that.”
Oberhelman said Callero established a “great culture” at the university, which he believes will carry forward in the program.
Oberhelman said that he “can’t say enough good things” about certain aspects of the basketball program under Callero’s watch, such as the strong academic performance of the players, high graduation rates and a team consisting of “great young men.”
But the reason for Callero’s termination, announced with two games remaining, was simply because the team was declining in terms of wins and losses.
Despite making NCAA tournament in 2014 and winning a play-in game, both firsts in program history, the team had losing records the past six seasons and steadily worse records in each of the past three seasons.
This year’s squad finished with a 6-24 overall record, 2-14 in the Big West, its worst since the 1994-95 team went 1-26.
Oberhelman said he is currently in the process of a national search for Callero’s replacement, and he has narrowed the list to 18 to 25 prospective candidates.
He said the new coach will be somebody committed to Cal Poly for the long term, and who will be able to recruit well with the understanding of Cal Poly’s high academic standards, which won’t be compromised only to bring in players who perform well athletically.
He said at other universities, sometimes players are told what majors to study, but at Cal Poly that’s never the case. And students attend classes with the same expectations as any other student, whether it’s business or engineering or any other major, he said.
“First and foremost, we need somebody who understands the academic rigors of this place,” Oberhelman said. “Here at Cal Poly, academics truly does come first. ... Our coach is going to have to embrace recruiting to that model. It has to be able to fit our academic profile.”
Oberhelman also said Cal Poly is in a “unique market” in a college town with community support, and the new coach will have to embrace the culture of SLO as well.
“Whoever comes in will have to continue to sell our program to the community,” Oberhelman. “Last night, we had pretty close to a sellout (against UC Santa Barbara). When we defeated Hawaii, we had pretty close to a sellout. Name another Big West school in ninth place that could do that.”
Oberhelman said the hire could come fairly quickly, though the timeline isn’t exact.
The athletic director said the athletic department and players are “hurting” by the decision to let Callero go, and Oberhelman met with the players this weekend to discuss the transition.
“They’re wondering what’s next,” Oberhelman said. “There’s a bit of uncertainty they feel. They were wondering if they’ll get to stay, and the answer is ‘yes.’ We’re not in the business of turning student athletes away. ... I hope I reassured them they still have a home here no matter what change is coming.”
Oberhelman said he could have waited until the end of the season to part ways with Callero, but he felt like he owed it to the coach to let him know before the end of the season.
“I have enough respect for him as a leader, as a man and as a friend,” he said. “I felt like I owed him that he should know when I know. Could I have sat on it until the end of the season, until today? Sure, but I felt like I owed him the knowledge I had, which was he wasn’t going to be retained. And he felt like he needed to notify the team when he knew.”