UC Riverside has replaced head men’s basketball coach Dennis Cutts. Associate Head Coach Justin Bell has been appointed interim head coach.
“There is a need to elevate our men’s basketball program to a more consistent level, to more effectively compete with mid-major Division I programs,” said Tamica Smith Jones, UCR director of intercollegiate athletics. “We need a coaching philosophy that will accelerate our program’s overall success in the Big West Conference, that emphasizes a culture for champions.”
“This was a difficult decision, especially as we make plans to open conference play, but we do feel it is in the best interest of our student athletes’ overall experience and the basketball program’s competitive progress.”
Jones has articulated a vision of bringing the UC Riverside Highlanders to the top of the Big West Conference and drawing talented recruits to a robust Division I experience.
During Cutts’ tenure, UCR’S record was 50 wins and 87 losses, with a 23-41 record in Big West play. After a promising victory against Cal in its season opener, the team has posted a 5-9 record this season, all in non-conference play. Jones, who joined UCR in 2015, has set an intermediate benchmark for the university’s sports teams of placing in the top half of the Big West Conference.
A nationwide search for a replacement will begin immediately, Jones said, with a focus on candidates who have experienced Division I coaching success.
Cutts originally joined UCR the basketball program in 2007, as an assistant coach. Cutts became interim head coach for UCR in July 2013, and in April 2014, Cutts was named the seventh coach in UCR men’s basketball history.
Jones lauded Cutts’ even temperament in a sport known for its exciting pace, and for stabilizing the program during his tenure.
“The team has fared better than most programs in retaining its players,” Jones said. “We are keeping our student-athletes, and they tell us they want to play for UCR.”
UCR’S basketball program had its greatest success before joining the Division I Big West Conference. As a Division II program, UCR made it to three Final Fours, and the national title game in 1995.
Interim Coach Bell, who played intercollegiate basketball at UCR, returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach in July 2012, having been an assistant at Division II Concordia University Irvine. He was promoted to associate head coach in 2016.
“We are confident that Coach Bell and the remaining coaches on staff are equipped and committed to leading our young men toward peak academic and athletic performance throughout this period of transition,” Jones said.
UC Riverside begins its conference schedule this week with road games at Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday, Jan. 3 at 7 p.m., and at UC Santa Barbara on Saturday, Jan. 6 at 9 p.m.