20 Questions: Which Coaches Are Feeling the Heat This Season?Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2011
Question: Which Coaches Are Feeling the Heat This Season?
It’s the nature of the business that college coaches are hired to be fired. With only a handful of exceptions around the country, job security among the coaching fraternity is hard to come by. Every offseason roughly 15 to 20 percent of the profession turns over, with approximately half of those open jobs coming as a result of some unfortunate soul’s termination. As we entered last season, the names of the men on the hot seat were easy to predict, and four of the five coaches listed didn’t let us down — Paul Hewitt (Georgia Tech), Jeff Capel (Oklahoma), Sidney Lowe (NC State), and Bruce Pearl (Tennessee) were all ousted after disappointing seasons (our fifth choice, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, got his team into the Dance and cooled his seat considerably).
Let’s take a quick look at one coach from each of the power conferences who could really use a breakthrough season in 2011-12.
ACC: Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest. This was a tough league to choose from because eight of the 12 ACC coaches are in one of their first three seasons at their school. But if we have to choose someone, it’s probably going to be the coach who guided his program to a historically awful season in his first year at the helm. A one-win conference slate in addition to home losses to the likes of Stetson, Winthrop, UNC-Wilmington, and Presbyterian won’t buy you a great deal of slack from a program still trying to recover from the death of Skip Prosser four years ago. Throw in the fact that several players have gotten into legal and academic trouble under Bzdelik’s watch and you start to wonder if he can survive another miserable season. If the second-year coach expects to last much longer, he’s going to have to show some improvement in Winston-Salem this year.
Big East: Stan Heath, South Florida. The five bottom-feeder Big East programs have all changed coaches in the last two years… except one — South Florida’s Stan Heath. Heath enters his fifth season in Tampa with a total of one winning season and 19 Big East victories. After putting together a solid 20-13 season resulting in an NIT appearance in his third year at the helm, USF backslid significantly last year to a 10-23 (3-15 Big East) mess. Even at a school where basketball isn’t taken very seriously, a coach cannot expect to finish at or near the bottom of the standings of a 16-team league regularly and expect to stay employed very long. He returns a verified talent in Gus Gilchrist in the post, but the Bulls don’t have a legitimate point guard and will spend this season shuttling around between different venues while the Sun Dome is refurbished. If he’s not careful, the playing facility may not be the only new thing in USF hoops a year from now.
Big Ten: Tom Crean, Indiana. Tom Crean is entering his fourth season in Bloomington — you remember Indiana, right… one of the six historic basketball programs in America located in a place with basketball goals sprinkled throughout every back yard and farmhouse in the state — and although few will publicly say it because he seems like such a nice guy, he needs to start showing some improvement immediately. Everybody recognizes that Crean walked into a nightmare of a situation left to him by his predecessor, Kelvin Sampson, but there comes a point right around now in a coach’s tenure where he can no longer legitimately place blame on the previous administration. IU has improved its overall win total in each of Crean’s previous three seasons (6-10-12), but last year’s Hoosier team did not improve in the Big Ten (three wins vs. four in 2009-10), and they collapsed monumentally in the last five weeks of the season, failing to win a single game after Groundhog Day. With Hoosier hero Cody Zeller coming on board this season, bigger things are expected. Simply getting his team to the NIT would be cause for celebration; but another disastrous Big Ten season might seal Crean’s fate at Indiana.
Big 12: Frank Haith, Missouri. Call this one the “what if” scenario, but like Bruce Pearl at Tennessee last year, if it comes out that Haith was not completely truthful to Missouri brass about his involvement with Nevin Shapiro at Miami during his time in Coral Gables, and his debut team in Columbia leaves something to be desired, the administration would have a rather easy out if they wanted to clean the slate and start over. While his seat is not ‘hot’ in the traditional sense, you have to believe that he’s minding himself a little more that he otherwise would be if the Yahoo report suggesting transgressions hadn’t come out over the summer. Of course, if he manages to take a pretty good core of returnees and craft them into a Big 12 championship team, it may not matter what he did or did not do down in Miami. There’s nobody else in the Big 12, though, who is all that vulnerable.
Pac-12: Craig Robinson, Oregon State. It was a great story while it lasted. Three years ago, the hope and change president and his coaching relative both enjoyed first years on the job with considerable support. While Barack Obama helped shore up a flailing economy in 2009, his wife’s brother, Craig Robinson, swooped in to Corvallis and produced magic with a team that had gone winless in Pac-10 play just one season before. Robinson not only cajoled the Beavers into an 18-18 (7-11 Pac-10) performance that included the school’s first-ever postseason championship (CBI), he also recruited a class for the following season that was rated among the top 25 in America. Like his more famous brother-in-law, though, things have deteriorated since, with OSU posting only 14 wins the following season (8-10 Pac-10), including one of the most incomprehensible home losses we’ve ever witnessed (by 51 pts to Seattle), and 11 last year (5-13 Pac-10). Preseason reviews are mixed on this year’s Beaver team and it could probably go either way, but if Robinson doesn’t have a competitive team this year, he might find himself back in the financial services industry this time next year.
SEC: Darrin Horn, South Carolina. Darrin Horn took over a program that faces an inherent structural problem in that it must face national powerhouses Kentucky and Florida at least twice a season in the SEC East. He fortuitously caught both behemoths in a down year in 2008-09, his first in Columbia, and was able to utilize his uptempo style of play and youthful demeanor to coach the Gamecocks to a tie for first in the division and an NIT appearance. His next two years, though, have not gone nearly as well as UK and UF have once again ascended to their positions at the top of the league. At a school that fancies itself as a much bigger player in both football and basketball than it actually is, the pressure is on Horn to produce quickly or once again start looking for work. Even in a division where Tennessee has imploded and Georgia is rebuilding after losing two stars to the NBA Draft, it will be difficult for South Carolina to finish out of the cellar. Horn needs a competitive team to continue to stay relevant in this brutal division.
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