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Sunday, March 24 Sports

Fairfield fires basketball coach Sydney Johnson

Eight years after replacing Ed Cooley with Sydney Johnson, Fairfield University is searching for a new men’s basketball coach.

The school announced Monday that Johnson was relieved of his duties, four days after a 9-22 season ended with a loss to Manhattan in the MAAC tournament. A national search is underway, with the school using the firm Ventura Partners, Inc., to assist.

Johnson came to Fairfield from his alma mater Princeton, which he led to the NCAA tournament in 2011. In eight seasons with Fairfield, Johnson was 116-147.

A year ago, Fairfield lost to Iona in the 2018 MAAC tournament title game and finished 17-16, marking the third winning season in a row and fifth in seven years. In June, the school extended Johnson’s contract through 2020-21.

But a disappointing 2018-19 season led the school to change course.

“I want to thank Coach Johnson for his commitment to Fairfield. He has led our program with integrity, served as a great mentor to our student-athletes and been a valued member of the University community,” athletic director Paul Schlickmann said in a statement. “We wish him and his family the very best in the next phase of their journey.”

Johnson and his program garnered attention at the MAAC tournament last year. In the waning seconds of the title game, Johnson pulled senior Tyler Nelson from the game and met him at the scorer’s table. An emotional Johnson embraced Nelson, an image that went viral on social media.

In fact, the video impressed recruit Neftali Alvarez and he ultimately picked Fairfield over a host of other Division I programs. Alvarez told Hearst Connecticut Media in December, “Every single player wants to go to a school and have a great relationship with the coach. Not just on the basketball court but outside, too. I saw that.”

The video amplified Johnson’s reputation throughout the game as an intelligent, even-tempered coach. He was also successful at Princeton, winning 47 wins over two seasons before arriving at Fairfield. And he took over a program on the rise, as Cooley was 92-69 in four seasons and 25-8 in 2010-11.

“I can't thank Fairfield University, (Fairfield president) Mark Nemec and Paul Schlickmann enough for the opportunity I was given to lead the men's basketball program for the past two seasons,” Johnson said. “My family and I will always be indebted to the Stag Nation for the memories over the years. I wish our student-athletes, alumni and fans all the best moving forward.”

Johnson was 68-84 in the MAAC, twice reaching the conference tournament final (2012, 2018).

“Fairfield University is on an amazing trajectory as an institution. We are committed to excellence in all aspects of the educational experience. As such, we have high expectations for the consistent success of our Men’s Basketball program and the multi-faceted impact it can have on our University culture. This is a coveted role that will attract high-caliber candidates. I am confident we will find a leader who can embrace and implement our shared vision and values,” Schlickmann said.

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paul.doyle@hearstmediact.com; @pauldoyle1

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