Monday, April 16, 2012

Coaching Carousal Part 2012-01: The Pendulum Swings Back

Trickle Down?
Not one of the six coaches released/replaced during the regular season (defined here as 10/15/2011 through 2/29/2012) coached in the power conferences, a sharp break with the trend dating to 2007 (and earlier?). Of the six who were replaced, all but the first (Northern Arizona's Mike Adras resigned unexpectedly on December 9 during an NCAA probe of possible program violations) appeared to be at the overt initiative of the administration, with losing records and flagging fan interest cited as the catalysts for change. Those who lament the path taken by the mid/low majors of the Division I basketball world should at least acknowledge that those programs are subject to the same pressures (revenue, TV exposure, fan/alumni pressure to compete...) as the power conference programs. Adopting the same course of action as step #1 to remediate and set a new course should come as no surprise. The break in the high-to-mid pattern comes at the end of the season. Given the damage to the brand sustained with an embarrassing mid-year termination, high major programs often look outside of the institution for a prestige hire to repair that damage. Nonpower conference program ADs tend to evaluate the progress made during the season and in a number of cases promote the interim selection (almost always an assistant coach) who engineered the recovery. Of the six individuals who stepped in as interim hires last season, three were promoted to the first chair while two others hired someone outside of the program. Northern Arizona has yet to resolve Dave Brown's status, but it seems likely at this point that the Lumberjacks will open Fall Practice 2012 with a new head coach hired outside of the program.

Winning Isn't Everything...Tickets Sales & Tournament Bids Are
That may sound crazy to the Arkansas-Pine Bluffs and Elons of the Division I world, but a 60.3% winning percentage was not good enough to save Doug Wojcik's job. Having logged a 140-92 record in seven seasons at Tulsa, Wojcik's teams had a series of badly timed losses combined with no NCAA bids (or CUSA championships) which convinced Tulsa AD Ross Parmley that it was time for a change. Fans, chastised by Wojcik more than once during his tenure, did not raise the hue and cry in the wake of his dismissal last March. Fan apathy and/or declines in ticket revenue/attendance were reasons cited in the dismissals of Mike Davis at UAB and Chris Lowery at Southern Illinois, though both had compiled winning records while heading up those programs. Unmet expectations, measured by NCAA bids, regression from prior (or historic) success or the even the team's conference record were variously cited in the dismissal announcements of Bruce Webber at Illinois, Doc Sadler at Nebraska and Ron Everhart at Duquesne.

An A-10 Digression
For Baron and Everhart in particular the fire/retain paradigm was more complicated than a single step-back season or year-end slump. Baron, a curmudgeonly 57 year old had clashed repeated with the Rhode Island fan-base during his 11 year tenure in Kingston, RI. A succession of late season collapses with no NCAA bid to show coupled with late off season recruiting sprees (always triggered when early recruits asked out of their LOIs in April or May) left a bitter taste for fans that even four consecutive 20 game winning seasons could not mask. The recession of 2008 worked in Baron's favor, placing enough pressure on Rhode Island's operating budget to discourage AD Thorr Bjorn from mounting an buyout initiative. Oddly, this season seemed to mark a turnaround in recruiting and Baron's efforts to put the program on the path to sustained success. The freshman class, recruited early, managed to get to campus intact and two very promising transfers, Andre Malone and Billy Baron (yes the coach's son) cleared the NCAA-mandated waiting period and joined the team late in December. Baron rekindled in season controversy by tossing senior guard Jamal Wilson, the team's leading scorer, off the team in late December even as the Runnin Rams were staggering to a horrific 1-11 start. The loss tally reached 23 as the season closed March 3. Eight years removed from a honeymoon with the Rhody fan-base, and with non-public money pledged to underwrite a buyout, Baron was released hours after Rhode Island's season-ending loss to Massachusetts.

Duquesne fans breathed a sigh of relief when Coach Ron Everhart pulled his name from the Penn State coaching search last May. Coming off a 19-13 season that included a post season turn in the CBI, fans expected a better outcome (despite the graduation of overachiever Damion Saunders) for the program than the 15-16 run in 2011-12. Everhart had his defenders, but the fan-base, possibly still digesting the bombshell that three sophomores, headlined by T.J. McConnell, intended to transfer, took Everhart's dismissal with relative calm. In an email to the Duquesne Board of Trustees AD Greg Amodio wrote

...We reached the conclusion that this kind of performance was impossible under his leadership due to uneven recruiting, large turnovers among his student athletes and coaching staff, an overall average win-loss record and a losing record in the A-10, poor performance in close games, the predictable collapse of our teams late in the season, and a general disorganization and lack of communication that is clear to those close to the program...

as the principal reasons for Everhart's dismissal. T.J. McConnell's transfer (he will go to Arizona) might have been a big blow to the continued success of the program, but of the 30 ball players (freshmen and transfers) recruited during the Everhart Era, fully 46.7% left the program before exhausting their eligibility, placing extraordinary pressure on the staff to rebuild the roster virtually every season. Everhart, who has won over 500 Division I games over an 18 year career that has included stops at McNeese State and Northeastern in addition to Duquesne, has developed a reputation for resurrecting down-and-out programs, and will no doubt land a job (much as Jim Baron has...) in this cycle.

By the Numbers
Mike Adras' resignation was the first of 36 openings in this cycle (to April 16). Look for 42-48 openings in this off season, which despite perceptions, is about average since 2007-08. Consistent with historic trends, the administration initiated 13 of the 16 openings (81.3%) created before Selection Sunday, an overwhelming number that dropped to seven of 16 openings (43.8%) created during the NCAA Tournament. The coaches have seized control of the process since Kentucky was crowned champion, creating four of the six (67.7%) post tournament openings. Expect that trend to continue through the Spring Signing Period (May 16 this season). Seven jobs (18.4% of the total made available -- if Rick Pitino's leak about son Richard's pending job at Florida International comes to pass) continue to be filled by interim coaches. Northern Arizona closed out the longest job hunt so far (125 days) on Thursday (4/12) when they hired Memphis Assistant Coach Jack Murphy. The Flagstaff, Arizona school went with a native son, as Murphy started as a student manager at Arizona under legendary coach Lute Olsen, filling a number of jobs in the Wildcat program over an eight year period before moving on as a scout for the Denver Nuggets and later an Assistant Coach under Josh Pastner (another former coach in the Arizona program) at Memphis.