LAWRENCE — Bill Self left no gray area, no wiggle room, and no ambiguity regarding his future.
Speaking Tuesday night after Kansas basketball’s season-ending banquet, Self put to rest rumors that his career trajectory will soon take the Hall of Fame head coach to a setting outside Lawrence.
“As soon as the NBA rumors came out, I went to our administration and said, ‘Hey, just so you know, I’m not going anywhere,’ ” Self said at a news conference following the function. “I certainly wouldn’t go anywhere right now at all. I’ve still got three years left on my deal, and hopefully sometime between now and the end of that there’ll be some talks about re-upping that, but I’m totally happy right now.
“I’m not going anywhere — anywhere. So I’ll be the coach here at Kansas next year.”
Permission to exhale, Jayhawk fans.
Even before KU’s adversity-filled 26-10 season came to an end with the team’s second-round NCAA Tournament exit, Self’s future had become the topic of many a rumor, flames fanned by the head coach’s name appearing in testimony and documents at the trials last October of three individuals charged in the federal government’s probe into illicit payments in college basketball recruiting.
Long tied to the San Antonio Spurs and the eventual decision general manager R.C. Buford will make when legendary coach Gregg Popovich eventually calls it a career, Self on March 7 went on the “Good N’ Plenty” podcast with reporter Jeff Goodman and tackled that situation — “That’s not a true at all. That’s a long way from being accurate,” Self said of rumors he could replace Popovich as soon as this offseason, adding he and his friend Buford had “never once talked about that.”
Then, in the thick of the Big 12 Tournament, Self on March 15 was linked to the Chicago Bulls by a sports handicapper who on NBC Sports Radio claimed “a very reliable source” told him the head coach was a lock for that position in Chicago — “The Bulls thing is as far-fetched. ... I don’t know where that came from,” Self told The Kansas City Star three days later, saying he had no contact with the organization about any employment opportunities.
Still, the rumors persisted, though first-year athletic director did his part to squash them Tuesday at the banquet when he told the crowd of a few hundred Jayhawk supporters that he believes Self has just finished one of the best coaching jobs in his tenure at KU.
“I look to the future and there’s no one better to lead our program now or into the future than coach Bill Self,” Long said. “We’ve all heard the rumors about coach Self leaving us. I’ve heard them, Bill’s heard them and we’ve talked about it, we’ve discussed it. Bill has addressed the speculation with the media and with others who have used the rumors to negatively impact our recruiting. Well, I’ve got news for those: That tactic won’t work. These are just rumors.
“To be clear, chancellor (Douglas) Girod and I are thrilled that Bill Self and (wife) Cindy are leaders of our basketball program, winning championships in the right way as he has done the last 16 years, and we are planning for him to lead this program for many, many more years.”
Long’s remark opened the door for Self to again discuss the rumors, and while he didn’t directly address what the athletic director said, he stated with more conviction and certainty that his future is at KU than at any previous point since the program came under college basketball’s microscope six months ago, with more potential obstacles and questions ahead.
“I don’t know that I should speak to what (Long) said, but I'll speak to this," Self said. "Whenever there were rumors, and there’s been a lot — that’s what they are, rumors, with no basis behind any of ’em — that I was not going to be coach here because I was going to a different place or going to not be around because of the NCAA or whatever, and people have certainly used that against us, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Self said there’s “no question” the perceived uncertainty about his own future has been used in negative recruiting by other programs — the Jayhawks currently have a pair of four-star players signed in the Class of 2019, with the team still needing “a home run or at least a double” in that realm this spring — but he didn’t hold it against any competitors for using it to their advantage.
“It’s not negative recruiting if you’re reporting something that was reported,” Self said. “Regardless if there’s any basis to it or not, if somebody told me that there’s a report out there that someone’s going to take another job and we’re going head-to-head with that school, that article may somehow find a way to the right eyes. That’s not being negative; that’s how it is. Certainly there’s been some inaccurate things that are reported with absolutely no truth to it.”
While Self has declared he’ll be back next season, he can’t say the same for many of his players.
Junior forward Dedric Lawson — given the Danny Manny Mr. Jayhawk award Tuesday as the team’s most outstanding player — has thrown his name into the NBA Draft, as have freshmen guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson. Sophomore guards K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore have announced their intentions to transfer out of the program. As the team's lone senior, guard Lagerald Vick won’t be back, either. Injured junior center Udoka Azubuike and ineligible sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa both have their own decisions to make ahead of the April 21 deadline to declare.
There will undoubtedly be a great deal of turnover this offseason, but the door is open for anyone who tests the waters to return to the collegiate level under certain conditions — a path widely expected to be taken by at least Dotson, who will first take advantage of new NCAA rules that allow players to hire agents and retain their eligibility.
“We’ve got a situation where we’ve had some guys obviously announce that they’re leaving, and we may have more, who knows?” Self said to the audience. “Don’t panic folks. We’re fine.”
For what it's worth, there seems to be no panicking from Self himself.
“This has been kind of a rocky situation from a public standpoint on what’s going on, but what you have to understand is we can’t talk about what’s going on,” Self told the crowd, “but I know I feel very, very good about having total support of our administration, and I know our staff and players do as well.”