Making the move even more surprising is that Donlon still had two years remaining on the contract extension he signed in October 2013.
“It’s really unfortunate,” added season-ticket holder Jonathan Hit. “Coach Donlon is a great coach and a great man. I’m not sure the program can do much better. I’ve been a season-ticket holder since 2010 and have been a regular at the away games and the coaches show, and I’m not sure I’ll be as involved now.”
WSU suffered a rash of injuries last year and lost four of its five starters en route to an 11-20 season that included a 3-13 mark in the league.
The Raiders were picked to finish to fifth this season, but Donlon led them to a tie for second, equaling the best league finish in school history. The 13 league wins also were tied for the most in program history.
“College basketball is very difficult right now,” University of Dayton coach Archie Miller said when informed of Donlon’s firing. “Billy did a tremendous job, not only this season, but with three appearances in their conference title game.
“That’s hard,” he added. “You never want to see guys who have to do this lose their jobs. There are guys on my staff who have lost their job before. It’s a really tough business to navigate. That’s why you’ve got to be really thankful when you’ve got a good situation.”
Donlon came to WSU in 2006 as an assistant coach under Brad Brownell. When Brownell left for the Clemson job in 2010, WSU hired Donlon as the eighth head coach in program history.
He had his best season in 2012-13, leading the Raiders to a 23-13 mark. He came within one win of tying that win total this past season.
While the success the Raiders enjoyed this year makes the move baffling, ESPN college basketball analyst Dan Dakich reported on Twitter what he believes was behind the firing.
Dakich tweeted that WSU athletic director Bob Grant gave Donlon a directive before the season to win the league or lose his job.
Grant declined comment.
“I know Bob Grant and I respect him personally, but I have no clue where he’s coming from on this,” Kline said. “This is an utter surprise and a true shock. I hope the university comes out at some point and says more at some point.”
Mike Hartsock and David Jablonski contributed to this report.