Let’s play a bit of “let’s construct a timeline,” shall we?
April 2014 — After a long tenure on the sideline next to Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski, Steve Wojciechowski takes the first head coaching job of his career, becoming the head coach of Marquette men’s basketball.
November 2014 - March 2016 — Crazy people get fed up with Wojciechowski’s inability to continue what Buzz Williams did as a head coach, even though Williams didn’t make the NCAA tournament or even the NIT in his final season at Marquette and both of Wojciechowski’s first two teams were clearly not as good as the Jamil Wilson/Davante Gardner led squad in Williams’ final year. These crazy people begin demanding that Steve Wojciechowski be let go immediately.
November 2016 - March 2017 — The Markus Howard Era of Marquette basketball begins. Marquette makes the NCAA tournament for the first time under Wojciechowski’s guidance, although they get hilariously destroyed by South Carolina as the 10 seed in a 7/10 game. Still, forward progress from the first two seasons.
November 2017 - March 2018 — A mid-season four game Big East losing streak and an inexplicable late season loss to DePaul with an absolutely rotten defensive MU squad costs Wojciechowski a second straight NCAA tournament, although they end up making the quarterfinals of the NIT with home wins over Harvard and Oregon. More crazy people emerge from the woodwork, claiming that Wojciechowski should be let go because Marquette should never miss the NCAA tournament.
November 2018 - February 2019 — Marquette goes from unranked in the preseason AP poll to as high as #10 and, as expected, contends for the Big East regular season title.
March 2019 — Wojciechowski is at the helm as the team experiences an absolutely insane collapse, losing six of their final seven games. They do, however, reach the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years, although this does lead to a second hilarious destruction, this time as the 5 seed in a 5/12 game. Markus Howard picks up two injuries right at the start of the collapse and is clearly not physically right but Wojciechowski lets his usage rate skyrocket as Howard can’t hit the broad side of a barn. Reasonable people hope that the first 27 games of the season were really what Wojciechowski can do as a coach, but are very afraid of what the final seven mean.
Early April 2019 — Even after the collapse, Marquette is regarded as a top 10, maybe even top five team for next season.
Mid April 2019 — Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser announce they are transferring, sending shockwaves through the Marquette fanbase.
May 2019 — These shockwaves do not affect the Al McGuire Center, as Wojciechowski has his contract thrown out and is given a brand new five year deal.
September 2019 — As a part of an effort to strengthen the university against expected future financial difficulties, Marquette University announces the elimination of 73 jobs. This includes the termination of 24 active employees with the remainder coming from positions that were already unfilled. Yes, this is a left turn out of basketball discussion, but this is going to be important in a minute.
November 2019 - Early February 2020 — With no Hausers on the roster, Marquette is loaded with question marks other than Howard. Through 23 games, however, the team builds a 17-6 record and knocks off a ranked Butler squad with relative ease to earn their first AP poll ranking of the year.
Mid February 2020 - Early March 2020 — That “lose six of seven” thing comes back for another visit. This time Howard is outstanding, but he gets absolutely zero help from the rest of the roster. By the time Senior Day rolls around, the booing when Wojciechowski is introduced during team introductions is unavoidable to the point where the PA announcer hurries through his name and straight into mentioning the student section to avoid the break in the middle where the booing would be the only thing audible in Fiserv Forum. That booing of the head coach would “inspire” the team to give up an early 13-2 run and fall behind by as many as 24 in what would become the fifth loss in the seven game stretch. MU would lose two more after that, leading perfectly reasonable and thoughtful people to come to the conclusion that, yes, even though Marquette was still on track to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, it’s probably time for Wojciechowski to go if he can’t avoid a second straight collapse. However, the fact that Marquette was still probably going to get into the tournament meant that the coach’s job was going to be safe no matter what.
Mid March 2020 — It turns out to be six losses in the final seven games for a second straight season as the coronavirus pandemic brings a halt to the Marquette basketball season as well as the first year of Wojciechowski’s new contract. While MU doesn’t reach the NCAA tournament here, they also don’t miss the NCAA tournament because there is no tournament to miss.
Early April 2020 — Enough time passes since the end of the season that makes it obvious if it wasn’t already that Marquette has no interest in moving on from Wojciechowski as head coach of the men’s basketball program. Whether that’s because administration officials believe he’s the right guy for the job or because of the buyout clauses in his new-ish contract, particularly amidst an uncertain financial future due to the pandemic, who knows. The point is that he’s definitely going to be on the sideline for 2020-21.
Mid April 2020 — Marquette University reacts to pandemic related budget shortfalls of $15 million for the 2019-20 school year due to shutting down the campus by furloughing employees.
June 2020 — Marquette University announces that they expect “risks” of $20 to $25 million for the 2020-21 school year as well as mitigation efforts to that budget shortfall.
September 2020 — As part of a meeting with the Academic Senate, senior vice president and chief operating officer Joel Pogodzinski announced that the university was projecting risks (again, read as budget shortfalls, or deficits, or however you want to think about it) of $45 million for the 2021-22 school year. Provost Kimo Ah Yun said in the meeting that the deficits would be the equivalent of losing 450 faculty and staff members.
Feels like the end of the timeline there needed a literal physical break, didn’t it? Still, I need to put a summarization bit here: Following a September where the university identified a need to tighten the budget up, Marquette immediately had to deal with unplanned and unexpected short term losses or shortfalls or whatever terminology you want to use of somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 to $40 million. Yes, some of that is being made up by federal bailout money due to the pandemic, and some of it is being mitigated by things like eliminating raises and employer contributions to retirement plans, so it’s not like the university’s bank account is sitting with a big ol’ red “-$37,383,571.91” in it. It’s still not good under any circumstance.
Add on to that the fact that the university is currently projecting to more than double that problem with a $45 million deficit for the 2021-22 school year. That’s a very real problem, and it’s one that is not going to be solved easily. Staffing reductions are coming to Marquette University, both on the academic and non-academic sides of the aisle, not to mention what I would have to presume is widespread budget cuts beyond just employee head counts.
Now, we can have a conversation about what the best moves for the university are in order to combat this financial difficulty if you want. I’m not a finance wizard on any level, and I don’t have access to the Excel spreadsheets that the MU administration is using to calculate these numbers, so that’s probably not the best use of our time.
What is a good use of our time on this internet sports blog is pointing out the following:
If you think that Marquette athletics is going to be firing their highest paid employee for anything other than something that guarantees that they don’t have to pay his buyout, you are living in a fantasy land.
I’m not typing this out as a pro-Wojciechowski homer who will meet you in Temecula to fight you if you don’t like the current head coach. I’m the guy who told you that his new five year contract/two year extension was, and this is an exact quote, “completely unwarranted.” My patience with him ran dry during the ending of the 2019-20 season. If you want Wojciechowski fired, I’m here to tell you that I agree with your thesis statement.
But I’m also telling you that you’re not getting what you want.
Not now, not after 2020-21, and 2021-22 isn’t looking like your year, either.
This isn’t a situation where a major donor can just wander through the doors of the McGuire Center with their checkbook and tell athletic director Bill Scholl that it’s time to make a change. This is a situation where the university as a whole has major financial questions for both the immediate and the distant future to be answered and a department within that university can not be sitting around paying two people millions of dollars to do one job. It would literally be a fireable offense for Scholl to accept that check instead of telling the donor that they’re in the wrong building and they need to go to the other side of 12th Street to Zilber Hall to give that money to a place where it will be put to better use.
If you’re thinking that “well, athletics finances are separated out from the rest of the university, so the rest of the university having a problem doesn’t mean athletics does, so they can do whatever they want,” well, you’re wrong. Here’s the line from the Marquette Wire article on that Academic Senate meeting:
Additionally, having to shift online or the potential canceling of the basketball season could contribute to lost revenues, [Pogodzinski] said.
“This could be in the tens of millions of dollars,” he said.
It’s unclear from that phrasing if Pogodzinski meant both things together or each one separately. What it means for sure is that the athletic budget is definitely connected to the overall university budget one way or another, even if that means that the university would have to start absorbing some athletic costs if the men’s basketball season doesn’t go off as scheduled. Heck, even if they get a full season in, if fans aren’t allowed to buy tickets at the normal rates at Fiserv Forum, that will still probably create a huge dent.
So that’s where we are. A growing number of Marquette fans have had their fill of Steve Wojciechowski as head coach, and at this point in the calendar, they have a pretty solid leg to stand on. However, the fact of the matter is that the financial status of the university is such that not only does it not make sense to buy Wojciechowski out of his contract, but it would actually be massive malfeasance from university leadership to do that.
We’re going to get a lot more of Steve Wojciechowski on the sideline for Marquette. Do whatever you need to do to get yourself prepared for that.