After a nine-year tenure as head coach of the Binghamton men’s basketball team, Tommy Dempsey will not return next season. The University announced in a statement on Monday that his contract would not be renewed, confirming what was reported by multiple media outlets Sunday night.

The statement also revealed that assistant coach Levell Sanders would be promoted to interim head coach for the 2021-22 season. A formal search for Dempsey’s replacement, as required by New York state employment law, will be conducted next spring.

“I want to thank [Dempsey] for his many contributions toward Binghamton University athletics and our basketball program,” said Binghamton director of athletics Patrick Elliott in the statement. “[Dempsey] guided our program and our student-athletes through challenging times, and always demonstrated a commitment toward integrity, academic success and citizenship.”

Dempsey leaves Binghamton with a 71-194 overall record and was 33-109 in America East Conference (AE) competition.

Elliott addressed the decision with the local media on Monday, citing Sanders’ player development experience and challenges presented by the pandemic as a reason for why the department decided to postpone its coaching search for a year.

“What we’re trying to do here is create some continuity,” Elliott said. “Typically a search for us is at least four to six weeks. Where we are right now, to pull that off, there’s a lot of travel constraints … It’s really hard for us to identify a great candidate pool. We have the luxury because we have [Sanders.]”

Sanders, a Brooklyn, New York native, spent 15 years playing basketball overseas. He then spent five years as head coach of a team in the Czech Republic prior to joining Binghamton’s staff in 2019. He has served as an assistant coach for the last two seasons, which is the extent of his coaching experience in the college ranks. He did play college basketball at Seton Hall, which is also Elliott’s alma mater.

The decision to promote from within for the time being comes as a surprise to many Bearcat fans who were expecting a full rebuild of the coaching staff after nine straight losing seasons under Dempsey.

“I think it’s a fair question to ask,” Elliott said. “I think when [the fans] say, well why are they doing this, anybody can take any argument and skew it to their narrative … [To say] you don’t care because [we’ve named] an interim, without really understanding who [Sanders] even is, is quite shortsighted.”

When asked about whether the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on collegiate athletics factored into the decision to hold off on a search, Elliott said that it did not. He stated that there was no buyout involved with Dempsey’s departure, as his contract was expiring.

Dempsey last signed a contract extension in November of 2018, just three games into the 2018-19 season. The team was coming off one of its worst seasons under Dempsey, but the arrival of point guard Sam Sessoms and his immediate impact on the court seemed to rejuvenate confidence among the team.

Binghamton made the playoffs that season and upset Stony Brook in the AE quarterfinals, but the team failed to find success in the two succeeding seasons. The Bearcats finished in last place and missed the playoffs in 2019-20. After the season, Sessoms transferred to Penn State.

BU finished its 2020-21 season with a 4-14 record, and the team’s season came to an end on Saturday when it lost to Hartford in the first round of the playoffs.

“We’ve been having discussions for several months, and even the last time that he had a contract renewal it was pretty clear what we needed to do,” Elliott said. “We just talked about needing to have some significant progress over last year and this year to move forward.”

After bringing in back-to-back Rookies of the Year and building a team with a large and talented sophomore class, personnel has not seemed to be the problem for Binghamton in the last few seasons.

“When we looked at the last three years, a couple of years ago, we thought, we’ve got some good players coming into the program, we’ve got some good players here, our recruiting is doing well,” Elliott said. “That gave us some hope for where we were going to be, but with some of those athletes’ injuries and transfers, it didn’t work out.”

While Sanders will serve as interim coach next season, Elliott expressed optimism that he could be the coach to lead Binghamton in the future. The team will conduct a coaching search next spring.

“We have to do a search and we’ll look at the best pool of people, but knowing his skill set he very well could be the front runner and be the guy,” Elliott said. “Hopefully, he’ll have early success and he’ll be here for a long time … If I didn’t think we had a person here that could run our program and be our coach for a long time, then I would’ve said we’re just going to go out for a search.”

Elliott credited Sanders’ coaching experience from abroad as transferrable to the college game, specifically saying that his defensive strategy will align well with AE competition.

“As a head coach, putting practices together, figuring out how you want to play, developing new players, that is kind of something that is really his strong point,” Elliott said. “I think he’s got some really good ideas, but to fairly [address his lack of college experience] he has to rekindle, renew and begin some of the relationships [for recruiting].”

Elsewhere in the AE, Albany announced on Monday that it has parted ways with head coach Will Brown after 20 years and five AE championships.