Monday, March 25, 2013

Coaching Carousal Part 2013-01: A Record Job Market?

A Big Turnover This Off Season...Probably
When the talking heads turn their attention to the Division I head coaching job market, most will declare that this off season will see the highest level of coaching turnover since the 60 created in the 2007 off season. And they will be right, but for the wrong reasons. Most will focus on a few of highly visible "tall trees" (UCLA & USC) but will miss the forest of vacancies created all around those two. Through the end of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament Division I coaching vacancies totaled 29. Between regular season vacancies and those created during Championship Week(s) -- 24 total before Selection Sunday -- hint that the total number of vacancies this cycle will range from 57 to 75, certainly above the average (50) for the last five seasons, with the potential to eclipse the total created in 2007. The sheer number of early vacancies, and not a much anticipated musical chairs effect generated by the UCLA and USC (and...Minnesota & Northwestern!?) job searches, will drive the numbers.

The West Coast Housing Market is About to Get a Shot in the Arm...
In addition to UCLA and USC, three other California colleges, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge (two UCLA assistants, Scott Garson and Phil Matthews, among five others, rumored to be in the mix) and San Jose are also looking for new coaches. The turnover will not be limited to the five fired head coaches, 23 staff members, ranging from assistant/associate coaches to operations directors are also updating their resumes. How many will be retained will be decided by the incoming head coach...but expect the attrition to be very high, probably four or fewer will be retained.

The View Atop the Food Chain...
National media attention has focused on the four power conference jobs, Minnesota, Northwestern, Southern California and UCLA. Looking closely, when the higher profile and salary scale are balanced against the challenges, the Athletic Directors at each school have a selling job ahead. After promoting from within for much of it's 108 years, Northwestern has looked to outside and floated from "brand names" like Kevin O'Neil (yes, that Kevin O'Neil), Harold Olsen, Tex Winters and Bill Foster to eccentrics like Ricky Byrdsong to "system guys" like Bill Carmody. Carmody brought the Princeton Offense and a 92-25 career record with him, and the administration stayed with him through 13 seasons. But Carmody's experiment yielded only five winning seasons and a 192-210 record. 192 wins might be second to Dutch Lonborg's 236 (1927-1950) wins, and his 0.478 winning percentage was better than his seven immediate predecessors (dating to 1963). The candidate pool appears surprisingly wide. Athletic Director Jim Phillips has assembled a to-do list, according to various sources, that includes longtime Duke assistant Chris Collins along with head coaches Dr. John Giannini (La Salle), Bryce Drew (Valparaiso), Dave Paulsen (Bucknell), Ben Jacobson (Northern Iowa), Bob McKillop (Davidson) and Brett Reed (Lehigh) to interview. I suspect that beyond Giannini and Paulsen, who have professional connections to Phillips, the real field consists of Collins and (maybe) Drew. The Chicago Tribunes' Teddy Greenstein thinks Collins and Drew, despite drawbacks, would generate the most buzz. Collins has a pocket full of recommendations from media types, most of whom draw paychecks from ESPN and have openly lobbied for their guy on air and via twitter. If their voices prevail, Phillips will revert to "buzz" and pick Collins. Caveat Emptor -- of the 10 head coaches (all fired) to prowl the Welsh Arena sidelines between the legendary Lonberg and Bill Carmody, only two, Kevin O'Neil and Tex Winters, went on to head another Division I program.

Wracked by an academic scandal whose punishment included vacating the school's only Final Four appearance, Minnesota gave Don Monson of Gonzaga seven-plus seasons to rebuild the program. The rebuilding project stalled, but the Golden Gophers caught lightening in a bottle when Orlando (Tubby) Smith, head coach of Division I's premier program, the Kentucky Wildcats, decided he was tired of stoking the outsized egos of an out of control fan-base and the unrealistic expectations of it's Athletic Director, and took his approach to basketball to the Twin Cities. Smith compiled a 124-81 record (a 0.617 winning percentage) and earned three NCAA bids, while running a squeaky clean program. Tubby, despite an 85 year old (renovated twice) arena and seriously out-of-date practice facilities, was building something in the Twin Cities...just not fast enough. Athletic Director Norwood Teague, Virginia Commonwealth's former AD, thanked Smith for his contribution as he showed him the door early Monday. Teague, most likely rattled by media reports that Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart would be courted hard by UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero (and most likely USC's AD Pat Haden), decided to eat Smith's 2.5 million dollar buyout and rely on his prior relationship with Smart to make up for lost time. Smart has to feel a bit lonely because he is the only candidate in Minnesota's pool right now. That could spell bad news for Teague, because someone, Shaka Smart or not, will have to blow the whistle next October 15 to start the fall practice in that old basketball practice facility and get whoever is on the roster ready to play basketball in Williams Arena.

Faced with mounting evidence of a massive payoff scandal in their football program that could result in death penalty-level sanctions, Southern California's then AD, in a gesture meant to show the NCAA that the USC Athletics Department would re-establish control over that outlaw program, threw then basketball coach Tim Floyd out the window. Floyd landed at Texas El Paso. USC's AD of the past two years, Pat Haden, is still trying to decide where to take the Trojans next. Haden dismissed the program's cleanup crew, Kevin O'Neil, in January, and turned to Tom Cantu to finish out the 2013 season. Haden's list -- after Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon signed his annual extension (that takes his tenure at Pitt through the 2023 season) -- includes a collection of young head coaches (Shaka Smart, Josh Pastner of Memphis and Buzz Williams of Marquette) and Mark Hopkins, longtime assistant coach to Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, who has ties to the Southern California area. The problem? USC's "One Shining Moment" was Henry Bibby's tenure (specifically the 2000-01 season) and since the John Wooden Era in Westwood, the Trojans are perennially the second (or third) best ticket in Los Angeles in the months between the Rose Bowl and Spring Practice. Whoever takes the job will have to compete with Sean Miller (Arizona) and UCLA for the area's best recruits. Interviews I would have loved to be a "Fly on the Wall" for in this cycle has to be Haden's interview with Texas El Paso's Tim Floyd (yes, that) Tim Floyd).

The object of a prolonged media feeding frenzy for the past two years, Ben Howland's time in Westwood was over even before the season began. Despite taking the UCLA program to three consecutive Final Fours -- a feat unmatched since John Wooden -- Howland and the Bruin fan-base were headed to a divorce on grounds of (mutual) alienation of affection, with a 3.5 million dollar buyout to Howland. The candidate pool -- high profile youngish coaches for the most part -- includes Smart, Butler's Brad Stevens, Florida's Billy Donovan, Villanova's Jay Wright, pro coach Mike Brown, Washington's Lorenzo Romer and Marquette's Buzz Williams. While each offers a quality resume, a few (Williams, Stevens and Wright) are puzzling. The others might want to consider that Howland and Steve Lavin, the last two to pace the Pauley Pavilion sidelines (both fired) combined to win 378 games over their collective 17 years in Westwood. Lavin earned six NCAA bids, advanced to four Sweet Sixteens and a Regional Final in his seven year tenure and failed to win at least 20 games only once. But he was fired in favor of Ben Howland, who earned seven NCAA bids, advanced to three Final Fours, won 30 or more games three times and turned in two losing seasons (not this season) before being fired at the end of his tenth year. In the thirteen seasons before he took UCLA to it's first Final Four, coaching legend John Wooden won 247 games, earned three NCAA bids and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen (but no farther) each time. Given the total circumstances, Smart or Brown (or Romer) make the most sense for the Bruins.

The total vacancies from the 2011-12 season was 50, with UMBC head coach Randy Monroe's surprise resignation three days before the start of fall practice, the "official" last vacancy created. Commentators last March/April projected a "down year" for the coaching job market, but 50 is average for the period 2007-2012. I include Saint Louis in the vacancies for this season. Although Coach Rick Majerus took a medical leave last August, the stated intent (though few who saw the coaching legend in 2011-12 believed it would happen) was to return to the bench for the 2013-14 season. His resignation in November of 2012 was the confirmation that his career was indeed over. For the nose counters, the period between the end of the NCAA Tournament and the Spring Signing Period will provide important clues for the final count. Vacancies created during the NCAA Tournament (already at five) should be the single largest number created for the cycle; combined with the Spring Signing Period total, the number should be about 1.5 to 2 times the number created during the season and immediate post season (the conference tournament, but before Selection Sunday) period. Should it come to pass, the number by the third week in May would be between 50 and 62.


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