ALBANY, N.Y. – First, the Fairfield men’s basketball season was over. Then, less than an hour after the Stags lost 84-77 to Niagara in the first round of the MAAC tournament, much bigger news came: Head Coach Tim O’Toole will not be back next year. The news had been the subject of speculation for at least a week, but nothing was made official until the post-game press conference at Pepsi Arena.

O’Toole said he and Athletic Director Gene Doris met to discuss the situation at the beginning of the week, and that it was essentially decided that O’Toole’s three-year contract, which expires this year, would not be renewed.

“I just want to take this time to thank everyone at Fairfield,” an emotional O’Toole said. “We’re not coming back next year, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity that Gene and Fr.[University President Jeffrey] von Arx gave us.”

The news came at the very end of the press conference, after O’Toole was asked to reflect upon the last eight years, which concluded last night without an NCAA tournament appearance.

He said afterwards he had planned the announcement, and would have brought it up himself had the question not been posed.

Doris, who said earlier that an “evaluation process” would take place and did not reveal the news because O’Toole had wanted to be the one to deliver it, said it was with a heavy heart that he let go of O’Toole, whom he hired to take the job for the 1998-99 season.

Doris said that the decision was made because of O’Toole inability to lead the team to a MAAC championship.

“Eight years and we didn’t get a championship,” he said. “When you take a look at it, we talk about fans and what do they want? When you take a look at the body of work and a lot of other ways with integrity and him as a person. I think I might feel worse than he does, to be perfectly blunt.”

O’Toole had come under criticism in recent weeks, when the team struggled and fell to eighth place in the MAAC. Rumors that his job was on the line, or that it had already been terminated, spread from internet message boards to the airwaves of WFAN sports radio, and by the time the Stags arrived here for their first round game, the air seemed to be filled with uncertainty and speculation.

O’Toole’s track record is one of mixed results. On the one hand, as Doris pointed out, he didn’t bring back any hardware to the Fairfield trophy case.

But he took over what had been historically the league’s least successful program, and led it to a 78-56 MAAC record, including the conference tournament championship game and a National Invitational Tournament birth in 2002-03, when the team went 19-11.

The next year, 2003-04, Fairfield went 19-12, O’Toole was named MAAC Coach of the Year, and the team finished with a winning record in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1977-78 and ’78-79 seasons. He finished with an overall record of 112-119 after this year’s 9-18 season, the worst in his tenure.

“We accomplished a lot of things,” O’Toole said. “We took over a program that had struggled…its unfortunate, but we did a lot of good things, and I think the foundation is a little bit better off and so everyone is going to move on. I feel bad for these players because they’re special.

Unfortunately, we were a much different team this year. We tried everything under the sun. You name it. There isn’t a defense we didn’t try.”

“Is the program better because Tim O’Toole has been a part of it?” Doris asked. “Yes. But has it met expectations? No.”

So what about next year?

“We haven’t decided what we’re doing,” Doris said. “Obviously there will be a search and we’ve got to put together what is going to happen.”

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