As we continue to get closer and closer to the start of the 2012-13 college basketball season we will continue to preview the landscape of college basketball with our weekly installment of “Guru’s Top Ten”. For this installment, I have decided to focus on some of the coaches in college basketball, specifically the ones who may already be or are close to being on the hot seat. These are the coaches who at least to the outside observer have the least amount of job security and need to win now or else their jobs could be in serious jeopardy. These 10 coaches all have had past success in the coaching ranks but coming into this season all 10 need to start producing “now” or they could be out of a job before season’s end. In this piece, I will take a look at 10 coaches that I believe need to start producing results before they are out of a job. This is all speculation but factoring in win/loss record, school expectations and off court troubles I have narrowed this list to the 10 coaches with the hottest seats entering the 2012-13 season. This list is ranked 1-10, with 1 being the coach with the least amount of job security and most heat on him and 10 being the one who is safe for now but could use some wins to help him sleep easier at night.
10.) Larry Krystowiak, Utah- In only his second year at Utah, Larry Krystowiak makes this list after leading the Utes to just a 6-25 record in their debut season in the Pac-12. The 6-25 record was the worst ever for a Utah Utes basketball program, although it had to have been expected considering the step up in competition and the amount of turnover with their basketball personnel. While many experts would leave Krystowiak off this list because of the circumstances and the short time period he has been Utah, I have a hard time doing so. First, last season was Krystowiak’s 1st year in college basketball since 2005-06 and in all his college coaching resume prior to Utah was a small 2 year sample at Montana. The major reason I have Krystowiak on this list though is the way Utah lost a season ago, as the Utes lost 14 games by more than 15 points, including losses by 46 points to Oregon and 40 points to Colorado. Yes, Utah was outmatched on paper in terms of talent a season ago, but these margins of victory are hard to ignore. Maybe the most amazing thing about Utah’s infamous season is that they did not finish last in their conference, thanks to USC’s atrocious 6-26(1-15) display. Utah’s poor record was not an aberration a season ago, as the Utes ranked 300th or worse in most of the major statistical categories including points per game (339th), rebounding (337th), assists (325th) and field goal percentage (304th). Larry Krystowiak is safe for now at Utah but with an overmatched roster once again, if these results continue it will hard for Krystowiak to feel confident about holding onto his job for the long haul. No one is expecting Utah to go out and win the Pac-12 this season but the Utes need to show some progress this season, or their coach will be the scape goat and lose his job.
9.) Craig Robinson, Oregon State- By far the most interesting case of a coach on the hot seat, Craig Robinson makes his seemingly annual appearance on this list. The President of the United States’ brother in law, Robinson somehow has retained his job after constant disappointment and underachievement in Corvalis. The Beavers are just 61-70 under Robinson during his 4 seasons at OSU, with last year being the high mark at 21-15. While 21-15 doesn’t sound all that bad, it is a little deceiving, as OSU won 2 games in the Pac-12 tourney and then went all the way to the CBI semi- finals where they lost to Washington State. Sooner or later OSU is going to have to take that next step and reach the NCAA Tournament if Robinson is to keep his job, as the Beavers have not reached the Big Dance as a program since 1990. Although Robinson’s lack of true postseason success and Pac-10/Pac-12 record of 27-45 do not bode well for his long term future, he is still safe for now at #9 due to the recent extension he signed this offseason. Craig Robinson has 4 starters returning and will need to make good on that talent, as an under .500 conference record and a CBI appearance will only be good enough for so long. In my opinion Robinson should be higher on this list but I rank him 9th on our hot seat list because of how bad OSU was before he got there and the recent extension he signed that has him scheduled to lead the Beavers until 2017.
8.) Travis Ford, Oklahoma State-Travis Ford got off to a good start at OSU leading the ‘Pokes to the NCAA Tournament in his first 2 season but the last 2 seasons have not been nearly as successful or stress free. Last season was the toughest season Ford endured as a head coach of the Cowboys, as OSU finished just 7-11 in the Big-12 and 15-18 overall. Off the court OSU had a player arrested (Darrell Williams) and also saw 3 players transfer in the past year (Fred Gulley and Ray Penn and now Cezar Guerrero). Add it all up and Travis Ford is starting to feel the heat as he enters year 5 in Stillwater, as the proud OSU fan base is not one that accepts mediocrity or down years. The one thing Travis Ford has been consistent with while at OSU, is recruiting. The Cowboys have been killing it on the recruiting trail over past few seasons securing highly touted prospects like Le’Bryan Nash, Michael Cobbins and this year’s gem Marcus Smart. Travis Ford is still pretty safe due to his early success with OSU but with a talented group returning and the addition of a top 10 recruit in Smart, fans in Stillwater expect the Cowboys to win right now. OSU has a lot of talent and if players like Le’Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart can’t deliver victories this season, it will likely be the last season for Travis Ford at OSU.OSU is just 13-21 in the Big 12 over the past 2 seasons and that number will have to improve this season if OSU is to meet their fans high expectations. Like I said, Ford is rather safe for now but with a rabid and impatient fan base, a slow start could spiral into the fans calling for a change at the top.
7.) Kevin O’Neill, USC-Another coach who isn’t being talked about so much when it comes to coaches on the hot seat but merits discussion is Kevin O’Neill of USC. O’Neill is entering his 4th season at USC and needs a rebound season after a forgettable 6-26 2011-12 campaign. O’Neill is 41-55 in all since taking over in Los Angeles, with a 19-35 record in Pac-10/12 play. While last season was not all his fault with injuries (Jio Fontan), early departures (Nikola Vucevic) and the lingering effect from the O.J. Mayo investigation and sanctions, O’Neill’s complete resume still leaves a lot of question marks. For instance O’Neill as a college basketball head coach hasn’t led a team to a tournament win or a 20 win season since 1993 with stops at USC, Tennessee, Arizona and Northwestern along the way. O’Neill is considered by many to be one of the great basketball minds and a great teacher but with limited success and recent struggles O’Neill to me is a coach firmly on the hot seat. USC should be better this year but after the season they had a year ago, one would figure a dramatic improvement will be necessary for Kevin O’Neill to feel confident about his job security. USC returns Aaron Fuller and Dewayne Dedmon and gets back Jio Fontan from injury, while also adding a couple of key transfers in JT Terrell(Wake via JUCO) and Eric Wise(UC Irvine), so expect the Trojans to be markedly better this season. Kevin O’Neill is safe for now but as bad as USC was last year and with a good but not great roster, some early struggles could lead to the end of the Kevin O’Neill era in LA. To illustrate just bad the Trojans were last season look no further than their offensive numbers, as USC averaged just 52.6 points (343rd nationally) and lost 19 of their last 20 games. No matter the circumstances, any coach from a Big 6 conference who throws up a 1-17 conference record and has yet to lead his team past the First Four of the NCAA Tournament is on the hot seat in my book, so Kevin O’Neill you’ve been warned.
6.) Oliver Purnell, DePaul- Another coach who is not yet on the hot seat but is starting to feel a little uncomfortable atop the perch of his college basketball program is Oliver Purnell. Purnell who is entering his 3rd season in Chicago with the Blue Demons, has endured plenty of bumps in each of his 1st two seasons at DePaul compiling a woeful 19-42 record. That record is even worse if you look at DePaul’s conference results, as the Blue Demons have gone 4-32 in the Big East over the past 2 seasons, finishing dead last both seasons. The good news is that DePaul showed some improvement in year 2 under Purnell, increasing their win total from 7 to 12 and their conference wins from 1-3. This was a hardly a dramatic change but improvement nonetheless for one of the youngest teams in all of college basketball. Oliver Purnell can also be optimistic about the talented young group he brings back, as DePaul returns 6 of it’s top 7 scorers led by forward Cleveland Melvin (17.5ppg). Melvin who is the Big East’s top returning scorer, combined last season with fellow junior Brandon Young (14.5ppg) to form one of the Big East’s best scoring duos. Young and Melvin give Purnell 2 solid pieces to build around and with Moses Morgan and Jamee Crockett also returning DePaul has a decent core of players. DePaul is still a few years away but with a nice returning group, Purnell needs to show improvement and development to maintain a stranglehold on his job. Oliver Purnell has won everywhere he has coached and in a basketball hot bed like Chicago, Purnell will succeed “if he is given enough time”. DePaul should be better this season and any signs of growth and improvement should be good enough to keep Purnell in charge heading into the 2013-14 season. DePaul was in need of a complete overhaul and after some early struggles things appear to be headed back in the right direction, albeit gradually. Purnell is still safe right now in my book because of the state of DePaul when he took over but that 4-32 conference record is a lot to overlook when compiling a list of coaches who are on or near the hot seat.
5.) Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss- It wouldn’t be a “Coaches on the Hot Seat” list without Andy Kennedy of Ole Miss. That is not to say Kennedy is a bad coach, but just illustrates the mediocrity of the Ole Miss program during Kennedy’s 6 year tenure. Kennedy has won at least 20 games in 5 of those seasons but has yet to get the Rebels over the hump and lead them to the NCAA Tournament. The question is how long will Ole Miss Officials accept mediocrity and the NIT before going in a different direction? That is why Kennedy is on the hot seat, as he has built the Mississippi program to a certain level but has not been able to get the Rebels to the next level which is the NCAA Tournament. In all Kennedy is a very impressive 146-90 in Oxford , but that lack of NCAA Tournament appearances and a slightly less than .500 record in SEC play(40-43) have Kennedy feeling that Southern heat. This season Ole Miss will need to make a move for Kennedy to save his job, as 20 wins and an NIT appearance is nice but not the kind of success school officials and fans are hoping for going forward. Those hopes hinge largely on the Rebel frontcourt, as Murphy Holloway (11.2ppg, 9.0rpg) and Reginald Buckner (6.9ppg, 8.1rgp) combine to give Ole Miss one of the best frontcourt duos in the SEC. In the backcourt senior Nick Williams(10.4ppg) returns as does sophomore point guard Jarvis Summers(10.4ppg, 3.4apg) to headline a backcourt that remains the Rebels’ biggest question mark. Also in the mix is NJCAA National Player of Year and former Utah Ute Marshall Henderson and sophomore LaDarius White who missed most of last year because of academics. Ole Miss looks to be in a very similar situation to year’s past, as they have a very solid squad but look like a fringe NCAA Tournament team at best. Ole Miss will likely win 20 games again next season but I see them as either one of the “Last Four In” or “First Four Out” teams come March which could determine Andy Kennedy’s future job status.
4.) Ken Bone, Washington State- A Washington man through and through, Ken Bone has coached college basketball uninterrupted in the state of Washington since 1985. After leading little Portland State to back to back NCAA Tournament appearances, Bone has yet to accomplish the feat at Washington State where he enters his 4th season as head coach. Bone is 57-46 at Wazzu but that record is largely due to his 22-13 record and NIT run in year 2 led by Klay Thompson. In the other 2 seasons WSU is just 2 games over .500 under Bone, and has posted a 22-32 record in all under Bone in the Pac-10/12. WSU fans might be starting to get impatient with Bone at the helm as the program has taken a step back since Tony Bennett moved on to Virginia and has not appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 2008. Bone’s seat is not on fire yet figuratively speaking but he is a coach in need of some success and some wins. Last year the Cougars finished 19-18 on the season but 4 of those wins came in the CBI, college basketball’s 3rd tier postseason tournament. One good sign for Bone is that he still has 4 years remaining on his current contract but unless WSU starts compiling some wins and showing signs of growth, Bone won’t live long enough to see that contract through. Last year very little was expected of the Cougars and they performed adequately in a historically weak Pac-12, winning 7 conference games led by the emergence of Brock Motum (18ppg, 6.4rpg). Motum will be the key figure again this season as the Australian forward enters his senior season as one of the best returning frontcourt players in the Pac-12. In the backcourt WSU will be led by senior Reggie Moore, who has overcome some off the court problems early in his career and matured into a nice looking point guard. This season WSU adds Kansas transfer Royce Woolridge and also returns sophomore shooter DaVonte Lacy, who had an up and down freshman season averaging 8.5 points per game. With the Pac-12 much improved this year with the expected resurgences of UCLA and Arizona, look for WSU to take a step back, as they figure to finish in the bottom 4 of the conference. Ken Bone isn’t being talked about as a coach on the hot seat but with a very thin roster and an improved conference, don’t be surprised if WSU struggles and Bone’s name is tossed onto this list early in the season. WSU will not be an NCAA Tournament or NIT team in 2012, the only question is whether the Cougars will do enough to save coach Bone’s job.
3.) Bill Carmody, Northwestern-Poor Northwestern. Last season the Wildcats came up just short of the NCAA Tournament once again, as heartbreaking losses to Ohio State, Michigan and Minnesota toward the end of the year relegated the Wildcats back to the NIT. Bill Carmody, who is in his 13th season in Evanston, has gotten Northwestern so close each of the last 3 seasons but the bottom line is that Northwestern still has never reached the NCAA Tournament. As well respected a basketball coach and basketball mind as Carmody is, at some point he has to get Northwestern over that hump if he wants to remain the head coach of the Wildcats. As agonizingly close as the last few seasons have been, it seems this will have to be the year for Carmody, who has led Northwestern to 4 straight NIT’s after achieving just 1 winning season in his first 8 at Northwestern. To illustrate just how close Northwestern was a season ago, 7 of the Wildcats 11 conference losses (including Big Ten Tournament) were by either 7 points or fewer or in overtime. The former Princeton head man has without question improved the quality of basketball and the quality of player at Northwestern but has to this point been unable to take that next step and finally get that monkey off Northwestern’s back. Furthermore Northwestern has had their best seasons of late and continue to recruit better players despite having not reached that elusive NCAA Tournament. Heading into this season Northwestern has a solid roster led by senior Drew Crawford who last season ranked 2nd on the Wildcats in scoring at 16 points per game. The big question is how Northwestern will cope with the loss of John Shurna, who averaged 20ppg last season and finished his career as Northwestern’s career scoring leader. Northwestern will not be able to replace John Shurna with one player or even a group of players but they will do their best this season with Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire being one of the guys asked to fill the void. Swopshire who battled injuries during his career at Louisville has graduated and is eligible immediately which should help Northwestern on the boards where they struggled so much a year ago, ranking 333rd nationally. Northwestern also adds TCU transfer Nikola Cerina to bolster their frontcourt, as well as highly regarded freshman center Alex Olah. The Wildcats appear destined to fall back this season as they not only lose their all-time leading scorer John Shurna but also will be without their point guard JerShon Cobb, who has been suspended for the year because of academics. Northwestern doesn’t have the pieces in place to compete with the upper echelon of the Big Ten this season and ultimately it will come down to just how far Northwestern falls and whether or not Bill Carmody can keep them in contention for a postseason berth. Bill Carmody is a popular guy and has made great strides at Northwestern but this team does not figure to compete for a tournament berth this season and because of that there has to be some talk about a coaching change in Chicago. Northwestern will have a decision to make again next season on Carmody, as the school continues to search for their 1st ever NCAA Tournament berth.
2.) Herb Sendek, Arizona State- Another well respected and successful basketball coach, Herb Sendek finds his name on this list after back to back tough seasons at Arizona State. The Sun Devils have gone 22-40 over that stretch, including just 10-26 in conference play. ASU also enters this season without their 2 best players from a season ago as Trent Lockett (Marquette) and Keala King (Long Beach State) have both left the program. Sendek who had so much success at previous stops Miami (OH) and North Carolina State, has reached the NCAA Tournament just once in 6 seasons so far in Tempe. In 2009-10 ASU overachieved dramatically and won 20 games and reached the NIT but not much has gone right since as ASU has finished 10th in the conference in each of the last 2 seasons, including a 10-21 record a year ago. In all, Sendek is 98-95 at ASU but just 44-64 in conference play, with the win totals being boosted by the James Harden led 25 win campaign of ’09. As we enter 2012, Sendek’s seat is as hot as any coach in college basketball, as the Sun Devils have won just 22 games over the last 2 seasons, including a putrid 10-26 conference record. Patience is wearing thin in the desert and with a very thin and overmatched roster heading into 2012, Sendek’s job security is at an all-time low. While the future outlook for Sendek at ASU is bleak, there is some reason for optimism. That good news is that 2011 top recruit Jahii Carson is eligible after missing all of last season after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA. Carson was one of the top ranked point guards coming out of high school a year ago in Arizona but was ruled ineligible by the NCAA because of his high school academics. Carson in high school averaged 32 points and 6.6 assists per game in high school and was the only high school player to play on last summer’s USA U-19 FIBA World Championship team. ASU also adds Liberty transfer Evan Gordon (Eric’s brother) who averaged 14.4 ppg 2 seasons ago and Hawaii transfer Bo Barnes, who averaged 6.6ppg as a freshman in 2010-11 but these additions don’t appear to be enough to save Sendek’s sinking ship. ASU will be near the bottom of the Pac-12 once again with a mid-table finish being the best case scenario, so it will be interesting to see how the ASU brass deals with Herb Sendek if the Sun Devils struggle like expected. Sendek has a contract through 2015-16 but with a new Athletic Director and a stressed commitment to winning don’t expect Sendek to hold onto his job unless ASU starts winning this season. ASU will be better this season with the additions of Carson and Gordon, but that influx of talent will not be enough to have the Sun Devils in the postseason discussion which could spell the end of the Sendek era at ASU.
1.) Jeff Bzdelik- Wake Forest- If there is a coach around the country that needs to win and needs to win now it is Jeff Bzdelik of Wake Forest. A once proud basketball power, Wake has struggled mightily under Bzdelik, posting a 21-42 record overall and a ghastly 5-27 record in the ACC over the past 2 years. What makes this worse is that Dino Gaudio was fired prior to Bzdelik, after leading the Demon Deacons to the NCAA Tournament in 2 of his 3 seasons as head coach. If you look at Bzdelik’s coaching record even more question marks arise, as after 2 very successful seasons at Air Force, Bzdelik led teams have racked up 5 straight losing seasons. At Colorado, Bzdelik’s overall record was just 36-58 (10-38 in Big 12) add that to his Wake record of 21-42 and Bzdelik is just 57-100 as a head coach over the past 5 seasons, a pretty remarkable record to still have a job. Prior to Bzdelik, Wake had qualified for the NCAA Tournament 18 of the previous 20 seasons, so to say patience is wearing thin in Winston-Salem, is an understatement. Bzdelik needs to win now and in a top heavy ACC, Demon Deacon fans hope they can finish around the middle of the pack in the ACC this year. The keys to those hopes primarily rest in the hands of returning leaders C.J. Harris and Travis McKie who combined to average almost 33 points per game. Harris, now a senior, averaged 16.7ppg a year ago and shot 42 percent from 3-point range, while also shooting an amazing 95 percent from the free throw line in ACC play. McKie on the other hand is one of the best kept secrets in America, as at only 6-7, McKie is a tremendous rebounder who also can score in the post or from the perimeter.. If there is something that can save Jeff Bzdelik’s job it might be his incoming recruiting class which totals 7 players led by ESPNU Top 100 point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre. This 7 man recruiting class is ranked 23rd in the country by ESPNU’s recruiting service and features 4 forwards, 2 point guards and a center. Miller-McIntyre is the prize of the class, as the top 10 point guard is tall multifaceted guard who knows when to scorer and when to pass and should compete for the starting job immediately. Wake Forest will have a chance to finish around 7th or 8th in the ACC next season, as teams like Virginia, Clemson, Boston College and Georgia Tech all figure to compete for those last 4 or 5 spots at the bottom of the ACC. Jeff Bzdelik is firmly on the hot seat entering the 2012 season and with a couple key returners in Harris and McKie and a big time recruiting class, Bzdelik needs to win now or he won’t be coaching Wake Forest next season. Wake has some talent and will need to deliver on that talent and potential if they want to save their coach’s job for the foreseeable future.
Others Nearing Hot Seat Territory
Stan Heath, USF- Heath for once gets a reprieve from this list after a very successful 22-14 campaign that included a pair of NCAA Tournament victories. Getting to the NCAA’s a year ago really relieved a lot of the pressure on Stan Heath and that appearance should buy him at the very least one season’s goodwill with the USF brass. With Anthony Collins, Victor Rudd and Jawana Poland all returning USF should be a middle of the pack team once again in the Big East, as the Bulls would have to really scuffle early for Heath to start worrying about his job.
Mark Fox, Georgia- Fox did a terrific job at Nevada and bought some goodwill getting the Bulldogs to the Big Dance in 2011 but after a tough 3rd season in Athens the pressure is starting to mount. The people of Athens are not calling for Fox’s head just yet but with a couple of big time young players in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kenny Gaines, the fans and the administration expect to see marked improvement this season after a trying 5-11SEC campaign. Fox narrowly missed on a couple of big time recruits in Tony Parker(UCLA) and Robert Carter(Georgia Tech) this summer, and if the ‘Dawgs struggle that could be his undoing in year 4. Not a lot of key returners for Georgia, so if the Bulldogs are to have success and keep Mark Fox afloat, the freshmen will need to grow up in a hurry.
Steve Donahue, Boston College- After inheriting a veteran roster from Al Skinner a couple seasons back, Donahue knew year 2 would be a challenge at Boston College but did he envision a 9-22 campaign that included blowout losses to instate rivals Holy Cross(Patriot League), Boston University (America East) and UMass Amherst(A-10). This year will be a big year for Donahue and the Eagles as a lot of his 1st year players enter year 2 in the program led by forward Ryan Anderson and guard Lonnie Jackson. Winning will be tough again in year 3 for Donahue but significant progress will need to be shown as ACC AD’s are not as forgiving as the AD’s of the academic based Ivy League.
Johnny Dawkins, Stanford- The Cardinal haven’t been horrible under Dawkins during his 4 year reign, highlighted by an NIT title run last season but fans in Palo Alto want the Big Dance and they want it soon. Dawkins bought some time with a late season surge a year ago and with a loaded roster heading into this season look for Dawkins to silence the critics and get Stanford back to the NCAA’s for the 1st time since ’08.
Kevin Ollie, Connecticut-Although this seems largely unfair, Kevin Ollie is already on the hot seat as head coach of the Connecticut Huskies. Ollie who recently replaced the legendary Jim Calhoun and has been given the ultimate vote of confidence by Calhoun, is not receiving that same vow of confidence from the university and will be under the microscope this season working with a 1-year contract. Ollie, a longtime NBA veteran, has been an assistant at UConn for the past 2 seasons and this year will take over a team that had all sorts of chemistry and leadership issues a year ago. Ollie should be fine but because of his inexperience in the coaching ranks and that unusual and tentative 1- year contract he makes this list.