KEARNEY, Neb. — The University of Nebraska-Kearney men’s basketball team is going on its third week with an interim head coach.

Just one game into the season, head coach Kevin Lofton resigned. He didn’t issue a statement and the university gave no reason for his departure. The timing was a shock to many, especially for a coach in his 29th season at UNK and his 19th as a head coach.

We’re now learning that an unconventional end date to his contract was at the heart of Lofton’s awkward exit. 

“We told Kevin that we were not renewing his contract," Athletic Director Marc Bauer said on "The Doug & Daddy Show" on ESPN Tri-Cities. "The contract ended on Nov. 30, which we were almost there. He knew that. Again, this was his decision on how he wanted this.”

According to a university spokesman, Lofton’s contract was first made in 2018. Bauer and Lofton renegotiated it in December of 2020, making it a three-year deal expiring at the end of November 2023.

Fast forward to November 17th this year. Bauer told Lofton he wasn’t renewing the contract and Lofton chose to resign instead of finishing out the month.

“Obviously, the decisions that were made, a lot of it was predicated on that date," Bauer said. "It’s been tough. It really has been.”

The Lopers steadily declined in recent seasons. Lofton owned a 56% winning percentage over 10 seasons as co-head coach with Tom Kropp. He had a 47% winning percentage as a solo head coach… but that dropped to just 30% over the past three seasons.

“The pressures are high right now in our men’s basketball program," Bauer said. "Our fans want to see us win, our alumni want to see us win, and quite frankly, that’s part of the Division ll experience is that you have that opportunity to compete postseason and we haven’t been.”

Last season’s five-win campaign was the program’s lowest win total in 55 years. 

Bauer elected not to fire Lofton in March, but also chose not to extend his contract for the full-length of the upcoming season... setting up the likely scenario where the Lopers would be without a permanent head coach for most of the season.

In an interview with NCN, Bauer said he felt Lofton deserved an opportunity to make changes but there wasn’t much he could have done over one offseason to earn an extension.

“Was this a shock? I mean, no, not really," Bauer said. "But the date of which we terminated this contract, or ended this contract, or not renewed it — that was the challenge here. I think that’s what surprised everybody.”

It’s not clear if the UNK players knew about the contract situation entering the season. Former Bellevue West and Creighton standout Antoine Young is now serving as their interim head coach.

“I know student-athletes often select a school based on the head coach," Bauer said. "But I think in this case, I think Antoine was very instrumental in the recruiting piece. So I think it gives them some comfort knowing that they have some continuity there.”

Kevin Lofton didn’t respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.

UNK plans to elevate Matt Brien from graduate assistant to full-time assistant once he graduates this month. Bauer says Young will be considered for the head coach job but that UNK will go through a national search.