How Hot Is That Seat? The Pac-12 EditionPosted by AMurawa on November 8th, 2012
After a year like the Pac-12 had last year, with the conference champion missing the NCAA Tournament and – oh, nevermind, I don’t need to run down the litany of lows the conference went through last year – it was bad. But, somehow, amidst all the 6-26’s and 31-point home losses to Cal State Fullerton and 20-point home losses to Middle Tennessee, every single Pac-12 head coach returns to his spot on the bench this season, the first time since 2001-02 that every one will do so. But, before we all get too comfortable with this admittedly quite fine selection of coaches, it is worth understanding that the odds are very much against a similar thing happening next year. We’re definitely in an era in college athletics where memories of good times don’t last very long and expectations for each and every season are high. Up and down the conference this season, you’ll find head coaches with make-or-break seasons ahead of them. Last week, CBS released its list of 12 coaches across the nation who find themselves on the hot seat going into the season, and six of those guys will be prowling the sidelines in the Pac-12. Below, we’ll take a look at each head coach in the league and rank just how hot that folding chair on the sidelines is getting for them, from scalding hot down to icy cold.
- Ben Howland, UCLA – Scalding. Last year was pretty bad. Back-to-back losses to start the season to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee are never good. The Reeves Nelson embarrassment at the start of the year (really, how did he ever think it would be okay to let Nelson fly out to the Maui Invitational on a separate flight?) was one thing, but it blew up into a huge story when George Dohrmann and Sports Illustrated broke down the dysfunction in the program. Sure, there were some circumstances that were less than ideal last year, including playing away from home in the creaky old Sports Arena, but excuses like that don’t fly just two years after a 14-18 season in Westwood. Those three straight Final Fours are not too far back in the rearview mirror, and yeah, the nation’s best recruiting class will definitely help things, but if somehow this thing blows up in Howland’s face this year, we’ll have a nationwide search for the next UCLA basketball coach to write about come March.
- Herb Sendek, Arizona State – Scorching. There isn’t a ton of basketball success in the history books at Arizona State, but when the Sun Devils reeled in the perpetually underrated Sendek from North Carolina State six seasons ago, it seemed like a big score for ASU. Three straight 20-win seasons followed and the Sun Devils were even scoring big-time recruits (see James Harden and Jahii Carson). But two seasons ago, the wheels came off amidst injuries, poor play from seniors, and youngsters who weren’t quite ready. Last year, the whole dang car went in the ditch. But, somehow in the middle of last year’s 10-21 season, then-Athletic Director Lisa Love extended Sendek’s contract by a couple of years. Well, ASU’s got a new AD in Steve Patterson ready to put his stamp on his department. And if Sendek’s youngsters don’t show some serious improvement this year (which, given the low standards and new talent, shouldn’t be that hard to do), Patterson may get his chance to remake the basketball program.
- Johnny Dawkins – Sweltering. Like Sendek above, Dawkins is laboring under a new athletic director, with Stanford hiring Bernard Muir this past July. And given that Dawkins has gone four years on The Farm without reaching the NCAA Tournament, there is certainly some pressure. But, unlike Sendek, at least Stanford is trending up. After a pair of sub-.500 years in seasons two and three, Dawkins had the team playing postseason basketball last season, earning an NIT title. And, Dawkins has the horses to be able to make a run at the more desirable postseason tournament this season, returning a proven young backcourt and some talented ancillary parts. However, with those parts come pressure; it may be a use-it-or-lose-it year for Dawkins.
- Ken Bone – Sizzling. The biggest mistake Bone has made in Pullman is following the most successful coach in the history of the program, Tony Bennett. In three years on the Palouse, Bennett went 69-33, the best winning percentage in school history for anybody who coached more than 15 games. Bone, by contrast, is just 57-46 in three years of his own, giving him the third-best winning percentage in school history over a coach’s first trio of seasons. Still, a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances and three NCAA wins in the Bennett era spoiled Coug fans and now they’re expecting Tournament appearances on a semi-regular basis. Bone’s inability to deliver, coupled with some off-the-court black eyes of late, leave him squarely in the firing line should his team fail to deliver this year.
- Kevin O’Neill – Blistering. A 6-26 season will get fans talking about the need to make changes, even at a place like USC where the basketball program doesn’t normally get a whole lot of attention. Athletic director Pat Haden smartly saw past the simplicity of the record last season and realized that O’Neill had at least started to assemble some talented pieces, earning the Mad Scientist another season in Troy. But, even at a school where the hardwood runs a distant second to the gridiron, back-to-back dumpster fires will not be tolerated. Win or else, O’Neill.
- Craig Robinson – Steaming. The end of the Jay John era at OSU was awful. We’re talking about 21 straight losses in the final year and a 17-46 total over the final two seasons. So while an 18-18 record and a 7-11 conference record in Robinson’s first year may not seem all that spectacular now, it was the first sign of hope for the Beavers in quite some time. Since then, OSU has been just three games over .500. And last year’s team that started out so promising flamed out in a flurry of wild shots and blown defensive assignments. And to make matters worse, Jared Cunningham left a year of eligibility on the table on his way to the NBA. While Robinson may have a bit more leeway than some of the guys above him on the list, barring an upper-division finish, he can’t feel safe.
- Dana Altman – Warming. Heading into year three in Oregon, Altman’s had a pretty successful run. His talent level in year one was ridiculously low, but somehow he squeaked out a 21-18 record and a CBI title while getting significant improvement out of his guys. Last year’s 24-10 record was the best record in Eugene since 2006-07, and it again featured a postseason appearance, this time the NIT – hey, baby steps. But amidst the 45-28 record over two seasons, Altman has been plagued by early defections. Five guys left prior to Altman’s first season, two more left prior to last season, then three-fifths of his first full recruiting class failed to last even as much as a year in Eugene. This leaves him with four returnees who played significant minutes last year, six freshmen, a redshirt freshman, a pair of JuCo transfers and a whole host of crossed fingers that Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi gets declared eligible. While I can’t imagine UO getting rid of a coach as good as Altman this early, he needs to prove that he can beginning assembling some stability.
- Larry Krystkowiak – Pleasant. I wouldn’t call his seat cold, by any means, but I’ve yet to see one Ute fan come close to blaming the other Coach K for last year’s fiasco. The fact that UU won a few games last year was actually quite an accomplishment. And given that he’s done a pretty good job of completely turning over the roster and bring some talent back into Salt Lake, he’s got plenty of leeway. For now.
- Lorenzo Romar – Brisk. There may be those outside of Seattle who look at the program and see some squandered talent, but the fans more or less love the state of the Husky basketball program, not only for their exciting style of play but also the quality of student-athlete they regularly bring into the program.
- Sean Miller – Chilly. Just looking at it from afar, you might guess that a guy who had suffered through two seasons without NCAA Tournament invitations in the span of three years at a school that had previously been to 25 straight Big Dances might not be all that safe. But with a top-five recruiting class, a no-nonsense style and, oh yeah, an Elite Eight mixed in there, Miller’s got plenty of collateral in the bank. It would take a catastrophe for him to be in danger of losing his job at any point in the foreseeable future.
- Tad Boyle – Frosty. His second season in Boulder featured a less-heralded lineup, but it earned CU its first Tourney appearance in a decade and a win to go with it, no less. Better yet, he’s got the fanbase fired up. He’s staying put as long as he’d like.
- Mike Montgomery – Freezing. The dean of the Pac-12 coaches is only going away from his current position when he decides he’d like to move on. With a head start on a good recruiting class and a tendency to have his squad overachieve, Montgomery is untouchable.