Kennesaw State head coach Lewis Preston looks on in the final minutes of a 74-57 loss to Georgia Tech during the second half of a college basketball game on Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, in Atlanta. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM Curtis Compton
Photo: Curtis Compton
Photo: Curtis Compton

Preston, Kennesaw State part ways

Lewis Preston won’t return as Kennesaw State’s men’s basketball coach.

Athletic director Vaughn Williams told the team of the decision, which the university described as mutual, on Wednesday.

Williams said the decision wasn’t entirely based on the team’s win-loss record of 9-67 under Preston. Nor was it based on the leave of absence that Preston took during the middle of the season for personal and health reasons.

Instead, Williams said he and Preston reached a decision that they thought was best for both parties going forward.

“I love Lewis. Always have, always will,” Williams said.

Preston’s attorney, Jim Zeszutek, corroborated the description of a mutual agreement.

“It made the most sense,” Zeszutek said. “In some situations where things aren’t going well in terms of personalities it’s best to move on.”

Zeszutek declined to say what the personality issues were.

“The important issue is the school is going on with its program and coach Preston will go on with his life,” he said.

Preston’s base salary was $175,000 this season, according to information in his contract. The contract, which was through 2016, featured pay increases to $195,000 next season and $215,000 in the 2015-16. Williams said a negotiation was reached Wednesday on buying out the contract. He declined to provide details. Zeszutek said they will not be pursuing any legal action against Kennesaw State.

Preston, formerly an assistant at Penn State, took over a team in 2011-12 that had academic-related issues so severe the NCAA levied penalties that included reduced practice time during the season for failure to meet minimum APR standards in consecutive years. The academic issues occurred under the previous coaching staff.

As Preston worked to change the culture the team struggled, going 6-55 in his first two seasons.

Citing that challenge of changing a culture, Williams said before the 2013-14 season that Preston should feel no pressure to win.

Things didn’t improve. The team went 3-12 before Preston’s leave of absence was announced on Jan. 2. Assistant coach Jimmy Lallathin took over the program.

Williams said Preston was cleared to return after “2 1/2-3 weeks,” but he made the decision to extend Preston’s leave. Williams later declared that Preston would return at season’s end. But he and Preston held several meetings during the past two weeks, after which they decided to go different ways.

Williams said the search for a new coach will begin immediately. He was going to talk to university president Dan Papp Wednesday night to begin to formulate a plan. Lallathin will remain in charge of the team in the interim.

Zeszutek said Preston is healthy and will begin to search for a new job.

“There will be a lot of college coaches who will be very interested in having coach Preston on their staff,” Zeszutek said. “He’s worked with some outstanding head coaches over the years.”

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