Cincinnati Fires John Brannen as Men's Basketball Coach

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Cincinnati has fired men's basketball coach John Brannen, reports Sports Illustrated's Pat FordeThe Athletic's Justin Williams was first to report the firing.

The university previously opened an investigation in March and suspended Brannen on April 3 after six players—including four members of the 2020 freshman class—entered the transfer portal in a span of a few days due to a rift with Brannen.

Tim Morris will serve as interim head coach while the university searches for a replacement.

Cincinnati athletic director John Cunningham wrote in a statement that the program decided to move on from Brannen, per Williams.

"The decision to move in a new direction comes after a thorough review of our program, which included conversations with student-athletes, coaches and staff, as well as with Coach Brannen," Cunningham said.

Brannen released a statement later Friday evening. He said he is "disappointed with this decision for a long list of reasons, but mostly because it was made long before the university even commenced its "investigation" into the basketball program."

Brannen was hired in 2019. Since joining the program, seven players who Brennan personally recruited left the program.

Initially, there was no timeline for Brannen's return and it was believed that the review being conducted was in order to look for something that would justify the for-cause firing of Brannen.

Brannen's attorney, Tom Mars, previously told Forde, "there's absolutely no basis here for coach Brannen to be terminated for cause."

"I've thoroughly reviewed everything that's being investigated by UC's outside counsel," Mars said. "From what I can tell, it appears that Jeff Long must have given UC's AD a copy of the David Beaty playbook."

On Friday, Mars echoed the same sentiments, sending Forde a text that Bearcats football coach sent to Brannen on April 3, the day Brannen was suspended. The text read, "This is bulls--- and the way it's being handled is bulls--- as well."

According to documents provided to SI from Mars, recently published data about the athletic department's financial status shows that the school has "consistently had the biggest budget deficit of any large university in Ohio." 

"Therein lies the real reason for John Cunningham’s decision to fire John Brannen for cause: From our perspective, it appears that John Cunningham’s intentions in arranging the ouster of John Brannen were based on his desire to hire a 'higher profile' basketball coach by reneging on UC’s promise to pay an agreed upon buyout and stiffing John Brannen to the tune of $5.25 million." 

Mars continued in the document, writing that this "suggests it was designed to support a 'termination for cause' narrative."

"For instance, during a recorded interview late yesterday that ended at approximately 10:00 p.m. CT, the lead outside lawyer conducting the investigation for UC told us the investigators had not interviewed a UC basketball player who had expressed his support for and shared favorable opinions about Coach Brannen in a news story published by The Athletic shortly before the investigation began."

The lead outside lawyer also allegedly said "that UC’s investigators would give no weight to any of the positive and supportive comments the player had made about Coach Brannen during his lengthy interview with The Athletic."

That same night, investigators allegedly told Mars that they were not close to finishing the report and were just on the rough draft. However, "sixteen hours after the recorded interview ended last night, John Cunningham delivered a notice of termination for cause to John Brannen’s agent." 

The Bearcats finished 12–11 in 2021, Brannen's second season with the team, and didn't qualify for the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Brannen guided Cincinnati to a 20-10 record and a share of the American Athletic Conference title in the 2019-20 season, but the postseason was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.