The university announced Wednesday evening that it and Preston had reached a mutual agreement on a buyout of his contract, allowing both sides to move in a different direction.
Preston’s contract ran through 2016. He made just over $168,000 in 2013.
“I want to personally thank Lewis for his hard work and dedication as men’s basketball coach during the last three years,” Williams said in a university release. “There were several challenges upon Lewis’ arrival. Priority number one was to greatly improve the academic and social culture of the program and I am very appreciative of the magnificent job that Lewis did in accomplishing this goal and the foundation he has put in place.”
Indeed, Preston, a first-time head coach after being an assistant at Penn State, Notre Dame and Florida, did improve the team’s academic standing and brought it out of the penalty-stricken form that led to the firing of former coach Tony Ingle.
What Preston could not do was improve the Owls on the basketball court.
In the three seasons since Preston’s hiring — Williams’ first significant move after he came from Connecticut — Kennesaw State went 12-80 overall and 5-49 in Atlantic Sun Conference play. Only nine of the 12 wins came against Division I opponents, and the Owls were 7-32 at home.
Change came Jan. 2, when Preston took a leave of absence for health and personal reasons. During Preston’s leave, the Owls’ play improved under interim head coach Jimmy Lallathin. Though they went 3-13, all three victories came in conference play, and Kennesaw State took eventual A-Sun champion Mercer to the limit Feb. 7 before eventually losing by seven.
In games he coached, Preston was 9-67 overall, with a 2-34 record in conference play.
Preston declined comment Wednesday, referring questions to his Pittsburgh-based attorney, but he said in a statement earlier in the day that he was “extremely appreciative” of the opportunities given him by Williams and university president Dan Papp.
“During my three years at Kennesaw State, I received tremendous support from administration, faculty and staff, and I feel privileged to have coached a great group of young men,” Preston said. “I wish those players and the Kennesaw State men’s basketball program nothing but success as they move forward.”
As Preston took his leave, Williams insisted the coach would return for the 2014-15 season, saying in January that Preston “will take this program in the right direction.”
But Williams said things had changed, and the agreement for the parting of ways was finalized Wednesday.
“I have a lot of respect for Lewis,” Williams told the MDJ on Wednesday night. “We had correspondence, and we talked, and we asked if this was the right fit going forward (for the program). It was then he thought that he had done what he needed to get done here.”
While Preston was expected to take the reins of the program back at season’s end, Williams said the coach did not return to campus.
Until a decision is made on a new coach, Lallathin will continue to guide the program. While Williams did not say Lallathin would be a candidate for the position, he did say he was impressed with the way the team played under the interim coach over the final two months of the season.
“He is a fine young talent,” Williams said of Lallathin. “He did a great job, and we’ll have to think about what that means. I was very, very impressed.”
Williams said he will meet with Papp to discuss the next course of action, but Williams said he has some ideas where he wants to go with a potential coaching search.
No timetable for having a new coach in place was given.