Friday, April 29, 2011

Coaching Carousal, Part 2011-03

The Tipping Point...
In the three-plus weeks since Connecticut cut down the nets and ended the 2011 season, 13 coaching positions were filled even as three more head opened up. Even more notable, of the three which opened up, two were at the initiative of the current head coach, a strong signal that the momentum in cycle has begun to wind down. Dane Fife became the latest in a growing trend of low-major coaches who abandon the first chair to take an assistant job at a high-major when he left IPFW for a spot on Tom Izzo's staff at Michigan State. 25 years old when tabbed to lead the then independent IPFW in 2005, Fife led the Mastodons into the Summit League in his third season at the helm. A historic 0.218 program after three Division 1 seasons, Fife led IPFW to a 0.357 winning percentage his first season (12-18), and bettered that mark in each of his next five. The Mastodons logged an 18-12 record (0.600) last season and perhaps Fife felt it was time to move on. Division 2 (and lower level) head coaches traditionally take assistant positions to move up the ladder, have successful head coaches voluntarily leave their positions to take assistant jobs may be another piece in a growing body of evidence of the gap between BCS-level programs and nonBCS-level programs.

The timestamp on Dana O'Neil's ESPN feature, "Old Coaching Assumption Fading", was barely 10 days old when Jim Larranaga, cited by O'Neil as an early trend-setter, exchanged the familiar surroundings of the program he built at George Mason to lead Miami and work in the ACC on April 23. Put O'Neil at the end of a line of disappointed observers that no doublt includes Providence (Larranaga's alma mater, twice rebuffed when they came to court after his 2006 Final Four run) AD Bob Driscoll and anyone who bet money that Kansas State's Frank Martin would suceed the departed Frank Haith as the Hurricanes' most likely next coach (not to mention Martin himself perhaps?).

Only Karl Hobbs, the George Washington University head coach dismissed unexpectedly on April 25, was an employer-initiated move. The circumstances of Hobbs' dismissal were typical of a post season evaluation, and so seemed strange coming more than a month after the GWU men played their last basketball game. That Hobbs was fired by Patrick Nero less than a week after Nero was designated the successor to Athletic Director Jack Kvancz, and more than eight weeks before Nero will take up the day-to-day duties as AD, strongly hints that Nero's first personnel move was decided before he was hired, and therefore by others in the GWU administration. Why the quick trigger for Hobbs? The key may well be Jim Larranaga's move to Miami -- Vermont head coach Mike Lonergan has been featured prominently on George Mason Athletic Director Tom O'Connor's short list. Nero, whose previous job was Commissioner of the American East Conference -- of which Vermont is a member -- may emerge as the point man to bring Lonergan to Foggy Bottom. Should Lonergan prove to be the target for both programs (other overlapping targets for those two include Jeff Capel, released in March from Oklahoma), the 2011 edition of the Coaching Carousal may have a bidding war should both programs go full bore for either Capel or Lonergan. Andy Katz may believe that George Mason is the better situation, but as a member in the best non-BCS conference (the A-10) in Division 1, a renovated arena in the nation's capital and access to a top 10 media market and a few good coaches in the past two decades (Tom Penders, Mike Jarvis) George Washington can offer a higher profile.

Best Hires? Worst Hires?!
If the talking heads have no clear favorite for "Best Hire" (Ed Cooley to Providence, Sidney Johnson to Fairfield and Cuonzo Martin to Tennessee are drawing most of the approving nods...), a (negative) consensus is about Frank Haith, Missouri's choice to succeed the departed (for Arkansas) Mike Anderson. Adapting Dan Hanner's efficiency margin comparison method for the two coaches, even as we allow for different schools and conferences, might give us a hint at expectations for the Missouri fan-base...

Average Adj.
Anderson, Mizzou 2007-11113.692.7+20.8
Haith, Miami 2007-11112.596.7+15.8

While Anderson appears to have the edge (good news for the Arkansas fan-base?), Haith does not appear to be an unreasonable choice. A comparison of styles (using Ken Pomeroy's coaching resume feature) can perhaps give Missouri fans an idea of what to expect...

Mike Anderson, Missouri200971.352.834.316.036.6
Frank Haith, Miami200867.449.

Anderson's version of "40 Minutes of..." is much in evidence at Mizzou, and Arkansas fans, who enjoyed three Final Fours, including a National Championship under Anderson's mentor Nolan Richardson, should recognize (and appreciate) the style. Haith ran a more deliberate offense, that compensated for less efficient shot (fewer transition points most likely) converson (and a slightly higher turnover rate) with more aggressive offensive rebounding and lane work (the 'Canes got to the line more).

Anderson, Missouri46.434.524.839.9
Haith, Miami47.034.220.335.4

The defensive snapshot of their "best" season suggests that Anderson's defense was more aggressive (note the turnover rate and free throw rate, both higher than Haith's Miami squad, and frankly much higher than the Division 1 average). Neither squad excelled at rebounding, and were about the same for shot defense as well (Haith's squad was ranked #47 in 2008, Anderson's #53 in 2009). Both coaches seemed to favor guards and 'tweener type wing players, and Haith should find a familiar skill set on the Missouri squad next season. Missouri's playing style next season will be more deliberate than Mizzou saw under Anderson, but with a similar set of players, Haith should be able to make his system work (or not...) fairly early next season.

By the Numbers...
In the last Coaching Carousal post I suggested a floor of about 40 vacancies in this cycle. The total to date (fall practice to today) is 46. If the cycles over the last four off seasons is a good indication, the ceiling will probably be around 50 (48-53), as those unforeseen circumstances ("The things we know we don't know...") will acount for another 1 - 7 vacancies after the Spring signing period. The spate of coaching carousal articles this week (see Davis over at SI, Katz at ESPN for example...) hint that the cycle is winding down, yet in seasons past -- even setting aside 2009 (a very unusual off season for coaching changes) -- the cycle has continued into July and even into late August once or twice. The cycle picked up quickly between the end of the regular season and Selection Sunday, and spiked dramatically during the NCAA tournament. The NCAA Tournament is always the peak, but the period between the end of the tournament and the close of the spring signing period (the third week in May) is often as busy as the period between the end of the regular season and Selection Sunday. The average number of vacancies per season (season opening to fall practice of the following year) over the period 2000-2010 is 47.8 -- clearly the 46 vacancies to date means this season will, at worst be an "average" year in the cycle.

A Smaller Turnover in the post Tournament Period?
If the post tournament period period seems less hectic, consider that at this point in the cycle vacancies are created less from ADs firing coaches and more from coaches switching positions. The "fuel" that drives the carousal after the NCAAs is generally provided by the coaching fraternity, and indeed the coaches do account for 66% of the new vacancies since the crowning of the National Champions. BCS vacancies typically drive the carousal by triggering a chain reaction of coaching searches to replace coaches who move up the Division 1 food chain. Of the eight 2011 BCS coaching vacancies (Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Miami-FL, Missouri, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, Providence and Texas Tech), two (NCSU & Texas Tech) were filled by currently unemployed ex-coaches (Mark Gottfried and Billy Gillispie respectively), three (Georgia Tech, Oklahoma and Providence) were filled by low/mid-major coaches whose departure triggered at most one other vacancy (Providence <-- Fairfield <-- Princeton), while the remaining three (Arkansas, Missouri and Miami) were part of the same chain reaction, initiated when Arkansas fired John Pelphrey on March 13 (Arkansas <-- Missouri <-- Miami <-- George Mason...for now). Given the pool of candidates George Washington and George Mason have to work with (compete over), expect no more than two additonal vacancies to be opened from their searches.

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