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Ashley Howard out at La Salle after four years

03/21/2022, 11:30am EDT
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

In trying to bring the La Salle men’s basketball program back to being a regular contender in the Atlantic 10, the school brought in what it thought was the answer in Ashley Howard.

Four years later, the Big 5 school at 20th and Olney is looking yet again.

Ashley Howard (above) is done at La Salle after four years running the Explorer's men's program. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Howard was removed from his position as La Salle’s head coach after four years on Monday, a school rep confirmed to CoBL. The move was first reported by CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

A Monsignor Bonner grad who played at Drexel before a heart condition cut his playing career short, Howard came to La Salle in April 2018 after a successful five-year run at Villanova, where he helped the Wildcats to two national championships. La Salle tasked him to take over for Dr. John Giannini, who had brought the Explorers to the Sweet 16 in 2013 but saw the program decline over the last of his 14 years. 

Howard was brought to La Salle by former athletic director Bill Bradshaw, who retired in 2019 and was replaced by Brian Baptiste, who came to La Salle after seven years at Northwestern.

"I would like to thank Ash for the guidance he provided to our student-athletes over the last four years," Baptiste said in a statement released by the school. "Unfortunately, the performance on the court did not meet our expectations. The time is right for a change in leadership that will benefit our student-athletes and the future of the program. We wish Ash, his wife, Ari, daughter, Journey, and son, Ace, nothing but the best in their next chapter."

Howard was never able to generate significant momentum in terms of wins and losses, going 45-71 (.388) overall and 25-46 (.352) in Atlantic 10 play during the course of his tenure. His 2019-20 squad, which went 15-15 (6-12 A-10), was his best by record and analytics — they were 181st in the final KenPom rankings that year — but they were 230s at the end of this season, which ended with an 11-19 (5-13) mark.

"I would like to give my heartfelt gratitude to the La Salle community for their support of me and the program over the last four years," Howard said in that same statement. "Unfortunately, I was not able to lead the program to the heights and expectations that were set. I am better for my experience as a head coach at La Salle, and I will always be a supporter of the Blue & Gold. Believe."

The Explorers’ main highlight from this past season was beating Big 5 rival Saint Joseph’s three times, including in the A-10 playoff first round in March, before losing by 20 to Saint Louis in the second round. La Salle hasn’t won multiple games in an A-10 tournament since the 2001-02 season.

During the course of his tenure, Howard was never quite able to find a rotation he was comfortable with. Nine different scholarship players started at least three games this year, and only Hatboro-Horsham product Clifton Moore started all 30; nobody else started more than 24. 

There’s no doubt that La Salle is not an easy place to win. 

Tom Gola Arena is one of the worst in Division I, a glorified high school gym where attendance is frequently poor. The school has had well-publicized struggles with attendance and finances over the last half-decade, one of many post-secondary educations struggling with rapidly-rising costs and declining applications across the country, all exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.

Whoever replaces Howard will have a tough road ahead of them, with well-established programs like VCU, Davidson, Dayton, Richmond and others winning 20 games on a near-annual basis. That’s before you factor in the rise of Fordham under Kyle Neptune, not to mention another school in the same conference and city — St. Joe’s — which has better facilities and location.

The new coach will also have to deal with a roster that’s seen a high level of turnover over the last few years. Even before Howard’s departure, team captain Christian Ray (5.0 ppg/6.9 rpg) had entered the transfer portal, as well as Anwar Gill (4.4 ppg/2.9 rpg), two of the seven players who started double-figure games this season. 

(Update: Cheltenham product Jack Clark, who averaged 12.0 ppg and 5.8 rpg last season, has also entered the transfer portal, according to multiple reports).

Numerous others have left over the last few years, including Ed Croswell, David Beatty, Scott Spencer, Derrius Ward, Jared Kimbrough, and Sherif Kenney, who was the A-10’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2020-21 but left midway through this season.

Still on the roster with eligibility left as of Monday morning are Moore (12.9 ppg/6.1 rpg), Josh Nickleberry (11.2 ppg) and Jhamir Brickus (8.9 ppg), three of the Explorers’ top four scorers from a year ago, as well as freshman Khalil Brantley (8.0 ppg).

Kyle Grififin will serve as interim head coach while the school looks for a new full-time head coach.

CoBL will update this story with more information as it becomes available

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