Oregon State Fires Craig Robinson… FinallyPosted by Andrew Murawa on May 7th, 2014
In the waning moments of Oregon State’s Pac-12 Tournament-ending loss to Oregon, it seemed to be the final nail in the coffin of Craig Robinson patrolling the sideline as the team’s head coach. A few days later, as Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was announcing that Robinson and his staff would coach a team of barnstorming Pac-12 stars on a trip through China in August, it seemed to be a nod that Robinson would, in fact, and against all odds, be back in Corvallis for the 2014-15 season. A few days afterward, Oregon State lost to Radford in the opening round of the CBI and Robinson joked afterwards that his firing could be imminent. In the weeks that followed, rumors hinted that athletic director Bob DeCarolis was in favor of keeping Robinson for another year, right up until the point when the wind shifted and rumors were that DeCarolis was ready to can him. Then came a letter to program boosters from DeCarolis beseeching them to support Robinson going forward, clearly meaning that the decision had been made, finally, to keep him on for another year, right? Well, no. On Monday morning of this week, DeCarolis had flipped again, announcing that the school was firing Robinson and beginning the search for a new head coach. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? So, what exactly is going on in the Oregon State basketball program? Why the late change of heart; is it the right move; and, well, what now?
As to the first question, what exactly happened since March 28 when DeCarolis sent that letter in support of Robinson? First junior Eric Moreland declared for the NBA Draft and Challe Barton decided to move overseas to play professional hoops. Then promising freshman point guard Hallice Cooke decided to transfer out, and DeCarolis had plenty of time to soak up all the complaints from fans about the state of the program. He ultimately came to the belief that his initial decision to keep Robinson was a wrong one, and he felt strongly enough about it to risk looking weak by flip-flopping on his original decision. According to DeCarolis’ Monday press conference following his decision, there was no late flood of booster money to help pay the $4.2 million still owed to Robinson (although he did admit that money played a role in the decision), and there is no next coach waiting in the wings to take over. It just came down to DeCarolis’ realization that the basketball program had gotten stagnant under Robinson and that it couldn’t afford another year of treading water. Give credit to the man for following his heart in the matter.
The next question is a bit tougher: Is it the right move? In six years, Robinson owns a pair of 8-10 conference records (this past season and in 2009-10) as the high water marks during his tenure. While that isn’t a whole lot to write home about, you’ve really got to compare what Robinson has done there with what other people have done in Corvallis, and his “success” stacks up reasonably well compared to his predecessors. In the 15 years prior to Robinson’s arrival, the Oregon State basketball program went 66-204 in conference play, good for an average of 4.4 Pac-10 wins per season. And given that Robinson took over a team that earned every bit of an 0-18 record in Jay John’s final season in Corvallis, turning more or less the same roster into a 7-11 team, he did accomplish a little bit of something. These past couple seasons, though, the Beavers had as much talent in Corvallis as they have had in two decades, and still went a combined 12-24 against a Pac-12 that, while improved, wasn’t exactly an elite conference. With Roberto Nelson, Angus Brandt, and Devon Collier graduating, Moreland headed to the NBA, and with Cooke headed elsewhere, there wasn’t a lot of hope for the immediate future of Beaver basketball. Look at it this way: Maybe DeCarolis didn’t get a late start on a coaching search for this offseason; maybe instead he got a huge jump on a coaching search for next offseason, because there was little reason to believe Robinson could flip the script.
So, that brings us to: What next? Who knows? I’m not going to pretend to tell you that I’ve got a good idea who is going to be the next Oregon State head coach. Ben Howland’s name certainly comes up, and it seemed clear that he wanted back into the coaching game this offseason at a major school, but is he really desperate enough to jump back in to a situation with little chance of immediate success? Arizona assistant Damon Stoudamire, Montana head coach Wayne Tinkle, and Seattle Pacific head coach Ryan Looney are among the names offered up by Connor Letourneau of The Oregonian as potential replacements. Whoever winds up in Corvallis certainly has his work cut out for him, of course. Little talent returns; there is little history of success; the facilities (despite a new basketball complex) are still in need of improvement; and in a rising Pac-12, there is a steep learning curve. Still, this is a program that needed a fresh start and it got one this week. Oregon State basketball had hit rock bottom (again), so let’s see if it can use that bottom as a springboard back up.