Five Coaches in Need of a Good Season

Posted by rtmsf on October 22nd, 2010

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

On Monday we gave you the list our five biggest coaching moves from the last offseason, now it’s team to look into our crystal ball and see who’s in danger of getting a pink slip. The guys from Monday would be advised to check out this post. All of the coaches below at one point carried the same promise and excitement of better things to come at their respective schools. But as at least one of them will most likely see, sometimes things just don’t work out.  Here are the top five coaches who need to have good seasons in order to feel secure about their jobs.

Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech

Paul Hewitt Almost Left Georgia Tech On His Own Last Year

  • Record at School: 176-142 (67-93 ACC) in 10 seasons.
  • Postseason Results: Five trips to the NCAA Tournament (NCAA runner-up in 2004); one trip to the NIT.
  • High point/low point: Hewitt’s high point is an easy pick and it’s one of the reasons why it’s confusing that he finds himself with so much to prove this season. The man coached the Yellow Jackets to the National Championship game in 2004, his fourth season at Georgia Tech. At that time there was so much promise in Atlanta, what with Hewitt’s knack to bring in big time talent (Chris Bosh and Jarrett Jack, for example) and what at the time seemed like an ability to coach ’em up and mount a run at a title. At least that’s what appeared to be the case. It didn’t take long for fans of the Ramblin’ Wreck to grow wary of Hewitt’s up and down nature. You could point out a number of things for the low point of the Hewitt era. There’s the fact that GT has never has won more than nine games in the ACC. There’s his four losing seasons. But I’d have to go with his disastrous 2-14 campaign in 2008-09, when the Yellow Jackets finished dead last in the ACC.
  • Reasons to stay: Hewitt knows how to recruit. He’s signed three guys that went on to win ACC Rookie of the Year honors in Bosh (2003), Ed Nelson (2002) and Derrick Favors (2010). Hewitt definitely knows how to sell the program to recruits, and it would be tough to find another guy that can bring in the same kind of hauls Hewitt has on his resume.
  • Reasons to leave: Hewitt is consistently inconsistent. Considering the talent on some of these Georgia Tech rosters, it’s dumbfounding that Hewitt has just one 9-7 ACC regular season to his name. Hewitt has made back-to-back NCAA Tournaments only once (2003-04) and hasn’t made it past the Tournament’s opening weekend since the Yellow Jackets’ run to the National Championship game in 2004.
  • Bare minimum he needs to stay: Hewitt needs to finish with at least a .500 record in conference, and the Yellow Jackets need to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. The preseason talk in Atlanta is how the Jackets are better than they were last year, despite Favors’ departure to the NBA. That means there’s no excuse if Hewitt can’t turn this team into a winner.
  • Possible job-savers: A strong finish at the end of the regular season. The schedule works out nicely for the Yellow Jackets to build momentum for the ACC Tournament and beyond. After traveling to Duke on Feb. 20, Tech finishes up home against Virginia, at N.C. State, at Wake Forest and home for Miami. Hewitt needs to sweep through those final four games to make sure there’s a chance for another season in Atlanta.
  • Odds of keeping his job: I’d say it’s 50-50. On the one hand, if A.D. Dan Radakovich was going to fire Hewitt, why didn’t he pull the plug after that dismal 2009 season? Then again, it should take a winning season in Atlanta for Hewitt to stick around for another year. Not many people are high on the Yellow Jackets this season because of the loss of Favors and Gani Lawal. Either Hewitt pulls a rabbit out of his hat or he reaches in and grabs a pink slip.

Jeff Capel, Oklahoma

  • Record at School: 82-51 (32-32 Big 12) in four seasons.
  • Postseason Results: Two trips to the NCAA Tournament (Elite Eight in 2009).
  • High point/low point: It’s hard to imagine Capel on this list considering that his high point at Oklahoma came just two seasons ago. In 2009 the Sooners were a No. 2 seed in the South Region and made it all the way to the Elite Eight before getting run out of the gym by eventual the national champion, North Carolina. The year before that Capel led the Sooners to a 23-12 record and NCAA second round finish; he was a coach on the rise and his program was headed in the right direction. Then everything fell apart. As expected, Blake Griffin decided to go to the NBA, but OU still had talent in guards Willie Warren and Tommy Mason-Griffin. It didn’t matter. Capel suffered his worst season in Norman, Oklahoma, on and off the court. The Sooners lost their final nine games of the season to finish under .500 for the first time since 1981. Worse, there’s an ongoing investigation into NCAA violations committed by ex-assistant coach Oronde Taliaferro. Five underclassmen (including Warren and Mason-Griffin) and two assistant coaches have left the program since the end of the season. Considering all the off-court drama, the court should be a safe haven for Capel. But then again, that’s where all his problems started last year.
  • Reasons to stay: If the Sooners ever need a last second half court shot they have the perfect guy to draw up a play. Seriously, though, Capel seems to be committed to Oklahoma and there’s no direct evidence that he had anything to do with the NCAA allegations. Capel easily could have fled the scene this offseason, but he chose to stick around.
  • Reasons to leave: Was Oklahoma’s two-year run a product of Capel’s coaching or was it because of Blake Griffin? Capel’s first year B.G. (before Griffin) ended with a 16-15 overall record and a seventh place tie in the Big 12. In the first year A.G. the Sooners went a paltry 13-18 and tied for eleventh in the conference. It could easily be that Oklahoma won 30 games in 2008-09 because of Griffin’s on-court brilliance rather than anything Capel was responsible for.
  • Bare minimum he needs to stay: Well first of all, Capel needs this NCAA investigation to end positively. You know what the Sooners did to Kelvin Sampson. And you have to think that the powers that be in Norman won’t accept any kind of improprieties. On the court, Capel has to finish at least over .500. People shouldn’t have any preconceived notions that it will be an easy return to prominence for Capel & Co. Not with nine new players on the roster. A winning record and a trip to the NIT should be enough to keep Capel from getting canned.
  • Odds of keeping his job: I think that Capel doesn’t have to worry about finding a new team come next spring. Capel should be able to meet the Sooners’ lowered expectations, and it will be fun to see this team fly under the radar in the Big 12.

Sidney Lowe, N.C. State


Sidney Lowe Needs an NCAA Season in a Big Way

  • Record at School: 71-62 (20-44 ACC) in four seasons.
  • Postseason Results: Two trips to the NIT (Quarterfinals in 2007).
  • High point/low point: Man, oh man. It’s tough to find a high point for Sid, but I’ll give it a shot. How about the time during his first season that Lowe wore that sharp red blazer and led N.C. State to a home upset over vaunted North Carolina, which was ranked #3 at the time. That was a fun day. As far as low points are concerned, I don’t think it gets much lower than when your athletic director feels compelled to tell the media that he doesn’t plan on firing you anytime soon. Lowe knows what I’m talking about. Last February, Wolfpack A.D. Lee Fowler told the local media in Raleigh that “Lowe’s our coach, and he deserves a chance. … He knows he has to turn it around and play at the top of the league.” N.C. State went 3-3 with a win over Wake Forest after Fowler’s statement.
  • Reasons to stay: Lowe was the point guard on N.C. State’s 1983 National Championship team. No one wants to fire one of the guys that helped make Jim Valvano into one of the most likeable guys in college basketball history. Lowe also just brought in one of the best freshmen classes in program history led by power forward C.J. Leslie and Ryan Harrow, both 5-star recruits according to Rivals.com. With those two teaming up with forward Tracy Smith, there’s a reason to be optimistic in Raleigh.
  • Reasons to leave: Let’s face it; Lowe hasn’t done anything in four years to make anyone believe he’s the right man for the job. He’s 20-44 in the ACC and has only three total wins in four years against North Carolina and Duke. That doesn’t cut it for a program that deemed it self better than Herb Sendek, who at least made it to the NCAA Tournament (five years in a row, actually).
  • Bare minimum he needs to stay: You heard it from the A.D., Lowe needs to “play at the top of the league.” The Wolfpack need to finish in the top-half of the ACC this year and make the NCAA Tournament. The talent is there, Lowe just needs to make it happen. His job depends on it.
  • Odds of keeping his job: Low, no pun intended. I just don’t think that N.C. State has what it takes to be a consistent threat in the ACC as long as Lowe is around. Each year Lowe has that one victory that you think is his watershed moment as a coach, and inevitably the Wolfpack suffer a last-second loss to shatter any momentum. If Sendek couldn’t last here, why should Lowe?

Mick Cronin, Cincinnati

  • Record at School: 61-68 (25-33 Big East) in four seasons.
  • Postseason results: One trip to the NIT (2010); One trip to the CBI (2008).
  • High point/low point: Cronin made huge progress when the Bearcats jumped from two wins during Cronin’s first season in the Big East to eight in 2008. Cincy only went 13-19 overall, but an 8-10 mark in one of the nation’s toughest conferences is an impressive achievement considering the mess that he inherited. The only problem was that the Cincinnati hasn’t done any better than 8-10 over the past two years, and that doesn’t generate the excitement Bearcats fans grew accustomed to under coach Bob Huggins. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported last March that the Bearcats average attendance was 8,529 in 2009-10, well below the 11,305 number from the 2004-05 season.
  • Reasons to Stay: If Cronin has done one thing of note during his four years at Cincinnati, it’s that he addressed a lot of the issues within the program that gave the Bearcats such a bad reputation around the nation. When Cronin took over the Bearcats were an academic joke and faced restrictions from Academic Progress Rate (APR) penalties. Cronin fixed that problem, and that should be enough to make him a likeable figure around campus.
  • Reasons to Leave: Cincinnati fans believe their program should be better than mediocre, and that’s what they’ve had to endure for the past four seasons. Under Cronin, the Bearcats have yet to play meaningful basketball in March. If that doesn’t change soon, then UC will be making a switch.
  • Bare minimum he needs to stay: One thing Cronin needs to do this year is beat Xavier. The once-plucky cross-town brother is now the top dog in Cincinnati. The Musketeers have won the past three games in the series. Xavier visits Cincinnati on January 6 — a win over UC’s biggest rival could propel Cronin and the Bearcats to their best year in the Big East.
  • Odds of keeping his job: It doesn’t look good. One of the biggest problems that seems to face Cronin (aside from winning) is that no one seems to care about the program anymore. He needs to give people a reason to want to come to games, and winning is the only way to cure that problem. As is the case with Georgia Tech, few expect big things from Cincinnati this year. If that’s the case, don’t expect to see Cronin with the Bearcats much longer.

Bruce Pearl, Tennessee

Pearl is Probably Safe, But He Needs to Watch It

  • Record at School: 126-46 (57-23 SEC) in five seasons.
  • Postseason results: Five trips to the NCAA Tournament (Elite Eight in 2010).
  • High point/low point: Bruce Pearl has been everything the Volunteers could have asked for — on the court. He’s won an SEC regular season title. He’s been to the NCAA Tournament all five of his years in Knoxville. I’d say his best moment, though, was win the Vols stormed into Memphis on Feb. 23, 2008, and knocked off the then-undefeated and #1 Tigers. The win was the programs biggest victory to date and gave Tennessee its first #1 ranking in school history. That’s a pretty nice high, and begs the question: just what is this guy doing on this list? Well, this past September Pearl confessed that he gave the NCAA misleading and incorrect information during an investigation into possible violations committed by his program. Pearl is banned from participating in off-campus recruiting for a full year and his salary has been reduced by $1.5 million over five years.
  • Reasons to Stay: The man’s a fun, loveable guy who’s a proven winner. He paints his chest orange for women’s basketball games, and I always love his television interviews and press conferences. He seems like a great guy to hang out with. Pearl also can coach, as he proved last year when he took a team crippled by suspensions and other problems and led them to the Elite Eight. Tennessee and Kentucky are the two best programs in the SEC right now (sorry, Florida) and the reason the Vols are a part of that two is all because of Pearl.
  • Reasons to Leave: The NCAA problems. It will be interesting to see what kind of players Pearl can bring to Tennessee with restriction on when he is allowed to recruit off-campus. If the talent level in Knoxville drops off and the Vols lose games, it will be harder to rationalize keeping a guy like Pearl around. Sometimes the risk isn’t worth the reward, even if the reward is a coach as good as Pearl.
  • Bare minimum he needs to stay: Pearl needs to make everyone forget about the NCAA violations. The only way he can do that is to win games, and win a lot of them, and absolutely remove all taint of scandal and indiscretion from his program.  No more guns in cars; no more photos at his house.  Pearl has to win at least 20 games this year and be back in the NCAA Tournament. Anything less would show the program is slipping under the weight of the scandal.
  • Odds of keeping his job: Good. Pearl seems genuinely repentant about what he’s done, and I’d be shocked if he gives the NCAA any reason to sniff around his program again. Tennessee is a national player because of Pearl’s coaching acumen and I doubt the school will be quick to ditch Pearl if it means falling back into obscurity.

Five More Lukewarm Fannies: Their seats might not be hot right now, but they’re definitely lukewarm. A few losses early in the season could easily make each of these guys sweat out the rest of the year.

  • Bruce Weber at Illinois — Remember when Weber and the Fighting Illini nearly won a national championship? It seems like ages ago, but it was only 2005. Weber has missed the NCAA Tournament two of the past three years and hasn’t made it to the Sweet Sixteen since the ’05 run. Illinois boasts the nation’s No. 13 incoming freshman class led by 5-star small forward Jereme Richmond and returns a team expected to compete in the top half of the Big Ten. Weber has more talent to coach now, but that means his leash is that much shorter.
  • John Pelphrey at Arkansas — After leading the Razorbacks to the NCAA Tournament’s second round in his first season, Pelphrey posted back-to-back losing seasons. His SEC record through three years (18-30) does not inspire confidence, but there is something about Pelphrey that does, and it could keep him in charge for a couple of more seasons. Pelphrey can recruit. Four top-100 prospects from the Class of 2011 have given their verbal commitments to Arkansas, and CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish said that’s enough to keep Pelphrey safe … for now.
  • Seth Greenberg at Virginia Tech — It always seems like Greenberg’s complaining about not getting into the NCAA Tournament instead of doing what needs to be done to make sure he rests easy on Selection Sunday. For all of their 20-win seasons, the Hokies have only been to the NCAAs once  in six years under Greenberg. If Virginia Tech had more basketball history and higher expectations for its program, then Greenberg might have more to worry about.
  • Ben Howland at UCLA — On the surface, Howland seems out of place on this list. But UCLA went 14-18 last year in a dreadful Pac-10 for the Bruins’ first losing season since 2003-04 (Howland’s first year in Westwood). You would think that Howland’s three straight Final Four trips from 2006-08 would be enough to give the man a loose leash, but UCLA alumni don’t accept down years, especially when there isn’t a guarantee the Bruins will storm back onto the scene this season.  Significant progress forward is the expectation this season for Howland’s Bruins.
  • Jim Calhoun at Connecticut — Honestly, I doubt that anyone at UConn would ever find the guts to fire Calhoun, but he’s here because with another underachieving season I think he might be nudged toward retirement due to all of the mess surrounding his program. UConn already admitted to committing several major NCAA violations and will give back one scholarship each of the next two seasons. The infractions committee can still apply additional penalties harsher than UConn’s self-imposed ones, and it’s tough to imagine Calhoun building a powerful squad with this much turmoil going on. It might be time for Calhoun to hang it up and let someone else deal with the mess.
rtmsf (3727 Posts)


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2 Responses to “Five Coaches in Need of a Good Season”

  1. Chris says:

    No Ed Dechellis? PSU can’t even get negative press.

  2. WakeFan says:

    $12m goes a long way towards being accepting of mediocrity. That’s Hewitt’s buyout, and it never runs out since the contract perpetually renews.

    I dislike Greenberg strongly (mainly due to his constant whining about everything, particularly last year when he and Dickie V whined about Wake getting in the tourney when Va Tech didn’t), but he’s definitely one of the better coaches in the conference so I don’t see him going anywhere.

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