Monday, July 20, 2009

Coaching Carousal Part 6 -- Circle Games

Break'n All the Rules...
There was a time, before Billy Donovan won his 2nd National Championship, when a school, short of violating the Rule for Louisiana Politicians ("In bed with a dead hooker or live boy."), did not fire a coach during the season. Three SEC schools have blazed new ground (not in a good way) by firing their basketball coaches during January or February. If the losing record rational could be applied to John Brady (LSU) and Dennis Felton (Georgia), the mid-season "resignation" of Mark Gottfried seemed especially odd, given the Crimson Tide's respectable, if unexceptional, record (53-36, 2005-2008, no losing seasons) coupled with multiple season injuries to several of the program's key players. Should there be a "Gottfried Correlary" to the Louisiana Rule -- Dead hookers, live boys or former students? Or did the Crimson Tide's Athletic Department seize on Gottfried's indiscretion and play it it as a "last straw" to the unfolding text book scandal (the NCAA released it's report with penalties last month)? While 201 student-athletes in 16 different programs were (according to Alabama and the NCAA) involved, athletes from the Men's Tennis, Men's and Women's Track & Field and the Men's Football were cited for intentional misconduct, the NCAA Infractions Committee seemed especially aggrieved that
1. While Alabama appeared to have a process in place to properly monitor and verify text book distribution to the institution's student-athletes, the administration did not follow it's own procedures, nor did they recognize and react to the yellow and red flags those procedures raised. And
2. Alabama has had two prior "serious violations" since 1999. In 2002, the Crimson Tide was on probation from violations arising in 1999, and in 2009 the NCAA found that Alabama was on probation from 2002 when the text book violations occurred in 2005-07.

Tim Floyd's sudden "resignation" as UCS's head coach, coming literally 6 weeks after he bowed out of the Arizona job search was shocking -- both for his supposed rational ("loss of enthusiasm"...patently untrue -- he was pushed out by AD Mike Garrett) and the timing (Garret had to know that mid June is inconveniently late in the off season to conduct a job search). Despite allegations by former Mayo insider Louis Johnson, that Floyd paid Mayo confidant (and runner for sports agent Bill Duffy) Rodney Gillory after Gillory steered OJ Mayo to his Trojan program, Floyd did not appear to be in immediate danger of being ousted from his job. That the NCAA had decided in May to combine the investigations surrounding payments to USC football player Reggie Bush with those surrounding bballer OJ Mayo may have influenced USC AD Mike Garrett. SI writer Seth Davis recently characterized Floyd's decision to recruit a player with ties to agents as a "Faustian bargain", but he may have missed his metaphore by suggest that Floyd (and Gottfried?) were the Dr. Fausts in this story. In Goerthe's "Faust" the good doctor, in spite of having committed a small encyclopedia of sin during the course of his adult life, was upon his death, carried to heaven by angels, rather than condemned to the fire and brimstone. The terms of a bet between the Lord and Mephistopheles, it seems, relieved the doctor of any punishment for sins committed while the wager ran its course. The Dr. Faust of this tale appears to be the BCS football programs that neither institution seems willing to discipline beyond the sanctions imposed by the NCAA.

Second Time Around...
Holy Cross Head Coach Ralph Willard took a longstanding offer from mentor Rick Pitino to rejoin his staff, this time at Louisville. Willard first teamed up with Pitino in 1987, joining Pitino's staff on the New York Knicks (NBA). When Pitino left to take the reins at Kentucky Willard joined him as an Associate Head Coach before striking out on his own, first at Western Kentucky (4 seasons) and later at Pittsburgh (5 years). Willard then moved over to Holy Cross, his alma mater, where he restored some of the glory to the Crusader program during his 14 year tenure. Willard has had health problems the past few years (prostate & heart), which combined with his growing (and publicly aired) frustration with scheduling at the mid-major, provided the motivation to take the second chair with his old friend.

Buzz Peterson decided to take a second stint at Appalachian State, the D1 program where he had the greatest sustained success over the course of his 10 year career as a D1 head coach. Peterson's first turn at Appalachian State ran from 1996 to 2000, when he compiled a 79-39 record with the Mountaineers and had 3 1st place finishes in the Southern Conference. He then took over at Tulsa (2000-01) where he led the Golden Hurricanes to an NIT championship. A 4 year run at Tennessee (2001-05) was less successful -- he compiled a 61-59 record, taking the Volunteers to 2 NITs (and no NCAAs). Peterson then moved over to Coastal Carolina of the Big South Conference. After he guided the Chanticleers through 2 seasons (35-25) before becoming the Director of Player Personnel for the Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA. And now back to Appalachian State again.

By the Numbers
The economic downturn no doubt dampened the job market this off season. The turnover signals a low in the current cycle, both numeric (30) and in the vacancy rate (8.7%), the second year running when the turnovers are down. Like the previous 3 seasons, the 2009 coaching carousal followed the pattern I noted in the 2007 off season...
1. Institutions initiated well over half of the vacancies. In 2009, employers fired/reassigned/failed to extend, etc. 2/3 of the open positions, (very) slightly higher than previous off seasons. Movement by the coach accounted for the other 1/3.
2. Institutions tended to act before the National Championship game (16/20), with nearly half (9/20) occuring before Selection Sunday. New Jersey reporters rightly expressed surprise at Fairleigh Dickinson's termination of 26 year veteran coach Tom Green back on June 4th, as a termination that "late" in the off season is extremely rare. If the coach is (still) in place on the first day of the Spring Signing Period, the chances are good he will remain in place through the start of the season.
3. The NCAA Tournament is a job bazaar. Approximately half of the vacancies (16/30 -- 53%) opened during the 2009 tournament, slightly higher than 2008 (13/43 -- 46%) and 2007 (19/60 -- 47%).

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