Friday, April 9, 2010

Coaching Carousal Part 2010-01: The 11 Week "Off Season"

September 24 to December 03...
From Jim Crews' termination in late September to Dereck Whittenburg's termination in early December, the Coaching Carousal stopped for just over ten weeks this (pre?) season, just long enough to kick off fall practice and get the season underway. Jack Styczynski over at the New York Times' Quad Blog posted a thought piece, "Looking for the Benefit of a Midseason Coaching Change", in the aftermath of Benny Moss' 1/29/2010 termination at NC - Wilmington. Styczynski, while recounting briefly the list of terminated coaches during the season, could find no value in the timing. While his analysis considered the interim coaches' won-loss records and subsequent inability to remove the "interim" tag from each's title, his premise, that these four Athletic Directors acted "too quickly" struck me as very odd. Styczynski frames the window in which the situations at each institution evolved from roughly the beginning of the season to the point of termination, and wonders if waiting another 10 or so weeks would really be that bad. And within that context his arguments persuade...perhaps. I can't speak to the situation at NC-Wilmington, but with respect to DePaul, Penn and Fordham, the question ("to terminate or not to terminate"), was in discussion for at least the two off seasons that preceded the 2009-10 season. The question should be "Why so slow?", rather than "Why so fast?" Why, in the case of Fordham, DePaul and Penn, did the AD drag out a termination process that was clearly in motion the preceding spring? The grievances and shortcomings of Wainwright (DePaul), Miller (Penn) and Whittenburg (Fordham) were publicly discussed and examined in excruciating detail for months (even years) before the beginning of the 2009-2010 season, as each landed on at least one "Hot Seat" list in the preseason.

When Army's AD decided, for reasons never given a extensive public airing (most likely because he acted quickly?), it was time for Coach Jim Crews to go, he notified Crews, conducted a search and hired a replacement inside of 72 hours. Three weeks before fall practice was certainly inconvenient timing, for the team, for the candidate who agreed to take the job (Zach Spiker, one of Steve Donahue's assistant coaches at Cornell) and for the AD who found himself staring into a candidate pool far smaller than he would have had had he waited six months (or acted six months earlier). The Black Knights of the Hudson recorded a 4-10 record in their conference (the Patriot League) and logged a 14-15 record for the season. Disappointing perhaps had that record been accumulated under Crews, but replacing a coach as late in the off season as Army dampens expectations (and they did split on the season with Navy, so all was not lost).

Why the Wait?
The benefit of waiting six or seven monthes to terminate Whittenburg, Miller and Wainwright was most likely that all three would, with the exception of Fordham (see Jio Fontan -- Whittenburg could not hang on to Jio, who left for Southern Cal), hang onto their rosters. Retaining Jared Grasso as the interim coach most likely allowed the Rams to hang on to A10 Rookie of the Year (in the making) Chris Gaston. Would the Rams have held onto both had they replaced Whittenburg in the spring of 2009? Maybe, but Fontan was clearly mulling transfer options during the summer of 2009 and had he bolted after meeting with a summer of 2009 replacement (most likely not Pecora), Gaston, who had not yet started at Fordham, could very possibly asked for his release. It would have been difficult for Fordham to deny that request. Retaining Jared Grasso as interim most likely helped them keep Gaston through the end of the season. Now it is up to Tom Pecora who moved over from Hofstra to take the position on Rose Hill, to persuade Gaston to stay with the Rams. Penn bucked Styczynski's "interim coaches never get the nod" trend when they elevated Jerome Allen to full-time head coaching status. Given the state of the economy in the first and second quarters of 2009, economics may well have played a role in delaying the exits of Miller, Wainwright and Whittenburg.

By the Numbers...
Through April 9, there have been 37 head coaching vacancies among the 348 D1 programs. Given that 33 occurred before the National Championship game was played, the total number of vacancies in this cycle will probably reach 45-to-50 positions, well above last year (36), but well below 2007's all-time high of 60. Typical of the post tournament phase (though admittedly the sample size is very small), vacancies this week were initiated more by coaches (3-to-1) than by Administrators, in contrast to in-season and during the post season, when Administrators initiate the vacancies (25-to-7).

Rumors, Unfinished Business
As of this afternoon, the Rutgers situation continues unresolved, though it appears that for Hill the question has become "When" rather than "If".

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