Amaker as Harvard Savior?Posted by rtmsf on April 16th, 2007
Somewhat lost amidst the coaching carousel of the last few weeks was the story that Tommy Amaker, recently ousted after six years at Michigan, was taking the head coaching job at Harvard. Consensus among the talking heads seemed to accept the notion that Amaker’s experience and recruiting acumen would translate into significant success in Cambridge. Why?
In ten years of head coaching experience at Seton Hall and Michigan, Amaker has earned only one NCAA appearance (in 2000 at Seton Hall). To be fair, he has managed six NIT appearances, including a championship at Michigan in 2004. But mediocrity, in the form of a 177-138 overall record, has been the only true consistency of Amaker’s college coaching career.
Granted, mediocrity at Harvard might be cause for celebration, considering that the Crimson’s last coach, Frank Sullivan, was 178-245 during his tenure, and the last time Harvard was invited to the NCAA Tournament was in 1946. However, overcoming the Penn/Princeton stranglehold on the Ivy League championship – one of the two schools has won the last 19 NCAA bids for the league – may be too much to ask for a coach who could not capitalize on the outstanding resources that Michigan has at its disposal.
There seems to be a prevailing wisdom that assumes when a coaching “talent” such as Amaker takes a step down in class, his wisdom and recruiting abilities honed while navigating the wars of the Big East and Big Ten will directly result in a major increase in wins at the new school. But haven’t we seen this before with the likes of Steve Fisher, another former UM coach?
Fisher was probably the pre-eminent recruiter of his era at Michigan, lassoing the historic Fab Five as well as multiple top prospects in its wake. For a period in the mid-90s, it seemed as if every major prospect in America had googoo eyes for Ann Arbor. But aside from his magical six-game championship run as a brand-new coach in 1989 after Bill Frieder was dismissed on the eve of the NCAA Tournament, his coaching success was middling at best. His teams tended to flame out early (three first weekend NCAA losses and two NIT appearances) when Webber, Howard and Rose weren’t playing for the maize and blue. When he finally left Michigan and settled for the warmer climes of San Diego State in 1999, conventional wisdom might have surmised that he could build a powerhouse there, based on his experience and recruiting prowess.
Eight years later, Fisher has been to two NCAA Tournaments at SDSU (both first round losses), but has also managed three losing seasons (and one 14-14 tilt). His overall record there is 127-117 (.520), which doesn’t exactly inspire comparisons to other historical program builders.
So why should we believe that Amaker is going to turn Harvard into an Ivy power? His abilities as a coach have been well chronicled for ten seasons, and his recruiting on the cache of his own and Harvard’s “name” is no more likely to snare a stud than at the two already-established basketball powers in that league. Remember, the Ivies do not give athletic scholarships, and Harvard is unlikely to allow Amaker any “free admits,” the existence of which is more manageable at other, less academically rigorous schools. Amaker would do well to get Harvard into the top half of the Ivy on a consistent basis. But Harvard as an Ivy basketball power under Amaker? – we’ll believe it when we see it.