Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward fired men’s basketball coach Billy Kennedy late Friday afternoon.
“Billy’s tenure included some great memories and remarkable achievements,” Woodward said in a school release. “He represented our program and Texas A&M University with distinction. Without question, Billy Kennedy is a first-class person. On behalf of Aggies everywhere, my thanks to Billy and his family for his service to Texas A&M. I wish him the very best.”
The 55-year-old Kennedy coached the Aggies for eight seasons, going 151-116. He made the NCAA tournament in 2016 and ’18, reaching the Sweet 16 both times. That matched the program’s previous number of Sweet 16 seasons since 1980, when the tournament went to 48 teams.
“My family and I are grateful for the chance we’ve had to be Aggies,” Kennedy said in the release. “ We have forever been impacted by the amazing Aggie family we have been allowed to embrace. The memories we have made are only possible because of the players, coaches, staff and administration that have been on this journey with us. I am especially grateful to Bill Byrne for making the first call, to Eric Hyman for staying the course, and to Scott Woodward for continuing to believe. I am grateful that God called me to Aggieland and blessed me with the opportunity to enjoy great moments in Aggie history while here. This is a special place and it has been a blessing to represent this university.”
The Houston Chronicle first reported that Kennedy would not return.
Kennedy’s tenure ended with a 80-54 loss to Mississippi State in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday. The Aggies opened the tournament by beating Vanderbilt 69-52 on Wednesday. A&M was 14-18 this season, including a 6-12 league record for 11th place. His SEC record was 62-64, with only two winning years — 11-7 in 2015 to tie for third and 13-5 the following year to tie Kentucky for the league title.
Kennedy received a contract extension from Woodward in March 2016, agreeing to a five-year contract, but Kennedy was 52-46 in his last three seasons.
“It’s an unfortunate situation but life is unfortunate sometimes,” Kennedy said after the Vanderbilt game about the report he would be fired. “You’ve got to be able to push through it, and this is what we’ve been doing all year.”
Kennedy replaced Mark Turgeon, who left A&M after four seasons for Maryland.
Kennedy’s annual salary was $2.4 million and ran through 2021. He has a $3.5 million buyout.
A candidate mentioned as a possible replacement is Texas native and Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams, who was an A&M assistant under Billy Gillispie from 2004 to 2006. Virginia Tech is expected to make its third straight NCAA tournament after going only once in the 18 years before Williams arrived.
Williams is in his sixth season with the 16th-ranked Hokies after six seasons at Marquette. He was asked about the A&M job after Wednesday’s victory over Miami.
“I’ve never commented on jobs,” Williams said. “I don’t think that’s appropriate by our kids. Where I’m employed, that’s just — I can’t control what people say. I’ve got to make sure I’m doing my best with these guys.”
Kennedy’s tenure at Texas A&M had a tough start. He was diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s disease after the Aggies went on a summer trip to Europe and before the first game in November. He watched the first two games while assistant Glynn Cyprien coached the team from the bench.
After having made the NCAA tournament the previous six years, the Aggies weren’t selected for any postseason tournament until Kennedy’s third season when they made it to the second round of the College Basketball Invitational. The following season A&M made the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, where it lost at home to Louisiana Tech. Kennedy guaranteed at the Louisiana Tech post-game press conference that the Aggies would make the NCAA tournament the next season.
He held true to his promise, winning the SEC regular-season title, making it to the SEC tournament final before losing to Kentucky in overtime, and then getting the Aggies to the Sweet 16 for the first time in nine years as a No. 3 seed. The season was highlighted by the largest comeback in the final minute of an NCAA tournament game when the Aggies wiped out a 69-57 deficit to beat Northern Iowa 92-88 in double overtime.
The regular-season title was the Aggies’ first since 1980, and Kennedy was named SEC coach of the year.
Two years later he became the only A&M coach to take two teams to the Sweet 16. The highlight of the season was an 86-65 romp over defending champion North Carolina in the Tar Heels’ home state to reach the Sweet 16.
The 2018-19 season has been quite the opposite with little to cheer about. It started off bad as guard D.J. Hogg and center Tyler Davis opted not to return for their senior seasons, and Robert Williams left after his sophomore year. Then returning guard Amon Gilder was sidelined with an injury. The team had nonconference home losses to UC-Irvine and Texas Southern, an assistant coach resigned and attendance numbers plummeted.
“We’ve had it packed before but throughout the last few years, even last year when we were fifth in the country and playing Buffalo, we would have liked more fans in here, but all we can do is focus on putting the best product on the floor,” Kennedy said. “At times we have had a good product on the floor, and this year, when you are not winning games, people aren’t going to come. You’ve got to win to get people in the stands and we have to do a better job of that.”
Kennedy has had five players make it to the NBA. Alex Caruso, Jalen Jones Danuel House and center Tyler Davis were on the first Sweet 16 team. Robert Williams -- the only one of the five drafted -- and Davis played for the 2018 Sweet 16 team. Williams was picked in the first round by Boston.