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.