Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Coaching Carousal Part 4: Butterfly Effect

Dominos -- Don Monson "Resigns" as a Gopher & Gregg Marshall Becomes the Head Shocker
Don Monson was the very successful Head Coach of the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The University of Minnesota needed a head coach and enticed Don Monson east in the 1998 off season. Monson coached at Minnesota for nearly 7 seasons, taking the Gophers to an NCAA in 2005 and 4 NITs. By 2006 however the AD wanted a change and Monson was tired enough to "resign" 7 games into the 2006 season. The AD named Monson's assistant Jim Molinari the interim coach and opened a quiet, season-long, coaching search. That administrative decision set in motion a sequence of coaching changes (commonly called the Coaching Carousal), which resembles the tumbling motion of domino tiles. Monson out; Tubby Smith leaves Kentucky to take the Minnesota job. Billy Gillispie leaves Texas A&M to take the Kentucky job. Mark Turgeon leaves Wichita State to take the TAMU job. Gregg Marshal leaves Winthrop to take the Wichita State job. Assistant Coach Randy Peele is promoted to the head coaching job. The Minnesota-->Kentucky-->TAMU-->Wichita State-->Winthrop sequence from the 2007 off season is one of the longer sequences in recent years, but a good illustration of the direct, A-to-B-to-C, nature of head coaches changing jobs. The longest head coaching sequence this off season, strangely enough, was triggered when Virginia fired Dave Leitao (former assistant at Connecticut and head coach at DePaul). That move set off two more head coaching changes, the second at Washington, when Tony Bennett moved over to take the Cavalier job, and at Portland State, when Ken Bone moved over to take the Wassou job. That 3 coach shift took just over 4 weeks to complete -- Leitao was fired on March 16; Viking Assistant coach Tyler Geving was promoted to the Head Coaching job on April 13.

Butterflies -- Billy Clyde Gets Fired & Born Ready Becomes a 'Cat (or a Tiger?)
Watching the recruiting process is a bit like watching a field of butterflies. Too many clustered around a single clump of clover and the others will drift off looking for another cluster. A single butterfly meanders off on a completely different course; four circle aimlessly as if lost or waiting. While few or none of them meander over to a particular part of the field in view. What influences the choices for butterflies? Ask a recruit why he chose a particular school and he may talk about anything from the location, the programs of study, the traditions (sports or otherwise), the opportunity to play, to go to the NCAA or even pursue a career in the NBA. Any given recruit might mention any combination of those reasons. Rarely does the recruit say his other choices were terrible. He wanted to go to the University of X but they didn't have a scholarship, or the coach was a feuding with his family/AAU coach/HS coach, and so on. Is D1 recruiting less predictable than the weather?

Coaches recruit the players. While an assistant coach may set up contact with the recruit and his family, the Head Coach often serves as the closer in the process. When the high schooler signs his (or her) National Letter of Intent (NLI), it is sent to the college/university where the Coach works. Coaches recruit players, but recruits "sign" to play for a school. Luke Winn's April 20 article for Sports Illustrated reviews the consequences of Billy Gillispie's firing from the University of Kentucky and John Calipari's much covered decision to take the job with the most obesssive fans in D1 basketball. Gillispie had a class of his own signed to play in the Blue Grass next season (not to mention the returning squad that featured Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks). Calipari left a handful of recruits at Memphis. As UK's recruits examined their options and waited to talk with Calipari, the Memphis recruits reviewed their options (and asked for their releases). SI's Andy Staples notes that recruits, particularly at mid-major schools, are pushing for side agreements to their NLI which, though not recognized by the NCAA, would allow them to be released should the coach leave for another job. Calipari's move affected more than the incoming classes at Kentucky and Memphis. Lance Stephenson, Scout Inc.'s #12 seemed bound for Kansas and Bill Self, but Caplipari's move meant Xavier Henry, a guard Self recruited hard during the fall and winter, was again "on the market". Self put Stephenson on hold while he pursued Henry, who he managed to sign last week. Meanwhile Maryland and St. John's, who had pursued Stephenson (as their 1st choice) through the same fall and winter, find they still have to wait on Stephenson. The self-styled "Born Ready" is still not ready to make a decision about college. Memphis and Arizona, both of whom lost coaches in the past month, are looking for late spring recruiting pickups.

Villanova fans remember Scottie Reynolds came to the Main Line as a result of spring coaching changes. Back in 2007 Mike Davis left Indiana (he eventually took the UAB job), and the Hoosiers hired Kelvin Sampson, then Head Coach at Oklahoma. Sampson had signed Scottie Reynolds out of Herndon, Viginia during the Fall signing period, but Reynolds was reluctant to go to Norman and play for an as yet unknown coach. He received his release and was pursued by Michigan and Villanova. Though he had been recruited the previous year by Michigan Head Coach Tommy Amaker, Reynolds chose Villanova and Coach Wright. He may well have been influenced by speculation that Amaker's job was in jeopardy. Amaker was fired the following off season, and currently heads up the men's basketball program at Harvard.

By the Numbers
With just under 2 weeks left in the Spring signing period, there have been a total of 26 vacancies. Through this time last off season there were 42 (of a 43 total vacancies). Projecting forward, there may be another 1-2 vacancies (all things equal...), most likely from circumstances unforeseen. Like the previous two offseasons, the period of heaviest turnover was during the NCAAs, where this season nearly 50% of the vacancies were created during the 3 week tournament.

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