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WKU head men’s basketball coach Harper resigns unexpectedly following suspension of three players

By Glenn Osborne
KyForward sports editor

In a surprise announcement Thursday night, Western Kentucky University head men’s basketball coach Ray Harper issued a statement that he was resigning from the post he’s held since 2011-12.

Harper’s announcement came shortly after Western Kentucky athletics director Todd Stewart issued a statement saying three members of the Hilltoppers’ program have been suspended following a hearing by the University Disciplinary Committee Wednesday night.

Former WKU head coach Ray Harper addresses the crowd during the Hilltoppers' Senior Day celebration. He announced his resignation Wednesday (WKU Athletics Photo)

Former WKU head coach Ray Harper addresses the crowd during the Hilltoppers’ Senior Day celebration. He announced his resignation Thursday (WKU Athletics Photo)

Here is Harper’s statement:

“Earlier today, I informed Todd Stewart that I was resigning as WKU head men’s basketball coach. I feel this is in the best interests of the program; a program I care deeply about. It has been a true honor being a part of this historic program, as both a head coach and assistant coach. I want to thank my assistant coaches, our support staff and certainly our players for their efforts, dedication and sacrifices on behalf of me and our program.

“I also want to thank Gary Ransdell, Todd Stewart and our administrative staff for their support and dedication. WKU Athletics has an outstanding group of people, and there is no better place to work. Finally, I want to thank the Bowling Green community and the Hilltopper Nation for the tremendous support they provided my wife Shannon and I. We were proud to call WKU home, and I wish everyone all the best.”

Stewart announced that Fredrick Edmond, Marlon Hunter and Chris McNeal have been suspended from the men’s basketball program following the university hearing.

“Federal law prevents us from public discussion of any details related to student disciplinary cases,” Stewart said.

Stewart’s statement said no information concerning the disciplinary charges or outcome will be released by the University.

Stewart said Harper will remain in paid status through the end of his contract term, June 30, 2016.

“I would like to thank Ray Harper for his many contributions to our program over the past eight years,” Stewart said. “Today is obviously a very difficult day. President Gary Ransdell and I met with our team a short while ago. We will begin the process of identifying and hiring our next head coach immediately.”

Harper came to WKU after nine years as head coach at Kentucky Wesleyan. Harper’s Toppers were 18-16 this season, including an 8-10 mark in Conference USA play. Western’s season ended in the finals of the conference tournament with a 89-77 loss to Old Dominion.

The Hilltoppers had won 20 or more games in each of Harper’s three previous seasons. His career record at WKU was 89-64 over five years.

Speculation about possible successors for Harper included former UK players John Pelphrey and Travis Ford, current UK assistant Kenny Payne and former Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury.

Ford was recently fired by Oklahoma State while Stansbury. He is currently associate head coach at Texas A&M. Pelphrey’s most recent head coaching job was at Arkansas.

He has been out of coaching since departing as an assistant at Florida when Gators’ head coach Billy Donovan left for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

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