Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Coaching Carousal Part 2010-03: Trends

Spring Signing Benchmark
The closing of the spring signing period marks the end of the most active phase of the coaching cycle. Between May 20 and the Fall Practice there may be, depending on how badly coaches behave in the off season, between one and nine(?!) additional vacancies.

Like Father, Like Son
Hardly a new trend, but four more sons of D1 head coaches have come into their own programs; two in the Big East alone this off season. Kevin Willard, son of Ralph Willard (Western Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Holy Cross) took his second D1 head coaching job last month when he moved from Iona to Seton Hall. Willard is the second son to follow his father as a Big East head coach. Jason Capel took the Appalachian State job on April 21, following in the footsteps of his father Jeff II (Old Dominion) and brother Jeff III (Virginia Commonwealth, Oklahoma). Chuck Driesell, son of Lefty Driesell (Davidson, Maryland, James Madison, Georgia State) took the head coaching job at the Citadel a week after Jason Capel took the Appalachian State. Davis and Willard join three other sons-of-coaches in the Big East head coaching fraternity. Keno Davis (Providence) followed his father Tom Davis (Boston College) back in 2009. Mike Rice (Robert Morris), the son of Mike Rice Sr. (Duquesne and Youngstown State) who coached D1 ball 9 years before moving into broadcasting. The John Thompson's, father and son, have coached at Georgetown for 33 of the last 39 years. And Bob Huggins, head coach at Cincinnati (pre-Big East) and later at West Virginia, is the son of Charlie Huggins, a longtime High School basketball coach in south central Ohio.

Head Coach to Assistant?
Sprinkled among the news stories and blog-generated speculation about super conferences and big-time TV football paydays are stories of schools, not among the BCS-blessed, making hard choices about D1 collegiate athletic programs. The New York Times speculated in May of 2009 that D1 universities across the country might cut up to 130 sports programs over the next year (2009-10). Since February the University of New Orleans and Centenary College have both reassigned themselves to the NCAA's Division 3 (Centenary voted last August to leave the Summit Conference and drop their status to D3). In the past 6 months Hofstra, University of California-Bakersfield, Seton Hall, Northern Iowa, Tennessee Tech, California State-Northbridge, Duquesne, Delaware State and Northeastern have all eliminated sports programs. I suspect the recent decision of three D1 head coaches to swap their #1 chair for a seat farther down on the bench at higher level schools may well be part of the same trend. Going from the Head Coach of a Division 2 (or Division 3) program to an Assistant Coach at a Division 1 program is a common career pathway for a (prospective) Division 1 Head Coach, especially if the candidate was very ambitious. Voluntarily leaving a head coaching position at a D1 school for an assistant coaching position is rare, and almost always elicits an explanation. Buzz William's 2008 move from New Orleans to the assistant's job at Marquette was accompanied by six months of explanations and a law suit. Ralph Willard drew headlines last summer when he left Holy Cross to rejoin his long-time friend and mentor Rick Pitino at Louisville. The career move received nearly as much press notice as a move to a head coaching job receives. With this off season having three D1 head coaches resign (not fired...) to take assistant jobs elsewhere makes the move more "usual". Columbia's Joe Jones, who left New York City's Ivy representative to join fellow ex-Ivy League Coach Steve Donohue at Boston College (as Associate Head Coach), had improved the Lions' standing in conference, but was stalled at the middle-level, unable to get over the 0.500 mark. Hartford's Dan Leibovitz brought energy to the NEC-based Hawk program and managed to record two winning season (18-16 in both 2008 and 2009) in his four year tenure, but he decided to return to his roots in Philadelphia (where he was an assistant to Temple's John Chaney) to join Jerome Allen's staff (Assistant Coach) at Penn. Leibovitz, whose move allows him to team up yet again with an old classmate, finished his tenure at Hartford with a 57-72 record. Orlando Early invested seven years in the Louisiana-Monroe program, compiling a 60-92 (0.395) overall record, with a single winning season (2008, 18-14). He decided to join Darrin Horn's staff (Assistant Coach) at South Carolina. Andy Katz's 5/25 blog, about Donnie Jones' move from Marshall to Central Florida, makes a similar point -- the move may seem lateral (or backward), but the destination offers better opportunities. UCF has better facilities and a larger resource pool (student body, public funding, bigger Athletic Department budget) to draw from.

In Season Vacancies
I wrote an earlier post that explored the reasons for the in season changes this year. 2010 was not, however, unusual for the number of vacancies created while the teams played their regular season schedules. In 2007 & 2008 about 18% of the D1 teams turned out their head coaches, while in 2009 & 2010 that percentage declined to the 10%-12% range. If the numbers are hardly unusual in 2010, the reasons and locations were. From 2007 through 2009, half of the in season vacancies were created in BCS conferences (the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10) in regions outside the Northeast. In 2010 all but one vacancy came in the Northeast and in mid-low major Division 1 programs. That two programs in the Ivy League, a conference which historically limited the influence money in their athletic programs, saw coaching changes during the regular season enforces the perception that the entertainment influence is pervasive.

By the Numbers...
From the open of Fall Practice to the last day of the Spring Signing Period, there have been 51 vacancies among Division 1 programs. The cycle is well established -- 65% of the vacancies were created before the National Championship game was played on April 6, with the largest number created at the initiative of the employer...

%age of
Reg. Season80.0%20.0%9.8%
Before NC78.6%21.4%54.9%
End of Spring Sign.16.7%83.3%35.3%
n = 51

The current cycle follows a well-established trend -- the most "dangerous" period for a D1 coach is before the National Championship game, while the most volatile phases tend to fall between the end of the regular season and the end of the Spring Signing Period. The tournament (especially the Final Four) is a Job Fair for both employers (Athletic Directors and Hiring Consulting firms) and employees (Head & Assistant Coaches and Agents), and most likely exaggerates the effect of the annual phases. The desire to resolve the direction of the program and allow a successor coach time to assemble a squad for the following season would naturally occur during the early off season. The cycle in 2010 is more consistent with the off seasons for 2007 and 2008 -- the most active phases occurred during the post season tournaments (conference and invitationals), rather than during the season or after the Spring Signing Period (usually around May 20). 2009 then, with a single job change during the five or so weeks after the National Championship and before the end of the Spring Signing Period, but six between late May and Fall Practice, was the outlier, a secondary effect I believe of the economic uncertainties of the spring 2009.

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