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University at Buffalo men's basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon signed a contract extension through the 2008-09 season Tuesday, a sign that Witherspoon is serious about continuing the rebuilding process on the Amherst campus.

Witherspoon is coming off a 17-win season a year ago, and if the Bulls reach expectations of contending for the Mid-American Conference championship this year, suitors from bigger programs would have followed.

"It's more of a relief than it is excitement," said Witherspoon, set to begin his sixth season with the Bulls. "It's a relief to get it behind us and get it over with and get back to the guys on the floor."

Witherspoon led the Bulls to a 17-12 record, the most wins since joining the Mid-American Conference in 1998-99, and was honored by the league as its Coach of the Year. He also was named Mid-Major Coach of the Year and the Division I Co-Coach of the Year by the Basketball Coaches Association of New York.

"It was a long process, but I wanted to make sure that we were doing everything that we were trying to accomplish for the university, our basketball program and Reggie, and I believe we were able to do that," said UB's interim athletics director, Bill Maher. "It's a fair representation to where Reggie has been able to grow the program to this point. We certainly have plenty of plans left to continue to move the program forward, but with the foundation of the young men in the program, the success that we had last year and the environment that has been created on our campus really allows us to capitalize as we move forward from this."

Witherspoon's new deal includes a pay raise of $35,000 in base salary, according to a source, which brings his salary to approximately $150,000 with incentives. Witherspoon's new salary structure is believed to place him among the upper echelon in the league.

Marshall's Ron Jirsa and Ohio University's Tim O'Shea are the highest-paid coaches in the MAC. Jirsa's total package is worth nearly $250,000 with incentives and runs through the 2006-07 season. When O'Shea was hired at Ohio in 2001, he agreed on a seven-year contract with a base salary of $150,000 and other incentives that could make the deal worth $250,000 a year.

Witherspoon first spoke with Maher about an extension at the end of April. The deal was negotiated through Witherspoon's agent, Dennis Coleman of Boston, who recently reached a deal on Al Skinner's contract extension at Boston College.

"It's about stability," Coleman said. "Reggie and Bill wanted to send out a message that Reggie is willing to be in Buffalo for a while, that there's going to be stability in the program, and we spent a lot of time giving him the tools necessary to get the job done, and that's security for (Witherspoon's wife) Dawn and the kids, which we think he's gotten.

"It's a message to the other teams in the conference and to the young men that Reggie recruits that he's going to be here for a while."

Witherspoon took over a program five games into the 1999-2000 season that was scandal-ridden and later placed on NCAA probation for violations under previous coach Tim Cohane. Witherspoon was officially named coach March 10, 2000, the 11th in school history. He has a 41-97 record at UB, and this season the Bulls are expected to challenge Toledo for the league title.