Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Coaches on the Hot Seat

Note: This article also appears at

Coaching in any sport has to be one of the toughest jobs out there. However, coaching college sports is the worst when it comes to stress and lack of job security. For example, in college basketball, one has to worry about keeping the fan base happy, the boosters happy, recruiting, getting to the NCAA Tournament, winning conference championships, etc. Moreover, depending on which program he (or she) is at, they are held to higher standards—which could result in a coach getting canned before they deserve it.

It seems that more and more coaches are getting fired in recent years, because of the additional stress that the current state of college basketball provides. Coaches that get to the NCAA Tournament but don’t win games are under fire, coaches that get to the Final Four in the past five years are getting heat from people, and the list goes on. And writers and broadcasters wonder why coaches are quick to jump ship to get the easy money?

Here are ten coaches that should start worrying about their job if they continue to “struggle”:

Ernie Kent, Oregon: Going into the season, Kent was arguably the coach most worried about his job. His teams have consistently underachieved over the past few seasons, always having enough talent to compete in the Pac-10 but falling apart in conference play and missing the postseason. Last year, it seemed he might be on the way out at the end of the season. Kent had some personal problems that became public and the Ducks were not playing well. However, they made a run to the semi-finals of the conference tournament, which could have given Kent another year in Eugene. Kent and Oregon are off to a very good start this season, currently 11-0. Some people may wonder why Kent is even on the hot seat, considering his record in Eugene is 175-112, including three NCAA Tournaments and an Elite Eight run. Despite that, if Oregon does not play well in Pac-10 play, Kent could be gone.

Tubby Smith, Kentucky: This could be one of the more puzzling cases in the country. Smith was 241-71 at Kentucky heading into this season, averaging 27 wins per season, reaching the NCAA Tournament each season and the Sweet Sixteen eight times. Oh, the Wildcats also have a national championship under Smith. What’s the problem, you ask? The “decline” of the Kentucky program, according to the Wildcats fans. There are numerous websites calling for the firing of Smith, and the school newspaper had to reject a full-page ad calling for Smith’s firing placed by a professor at the school. This season might not have helped Smith all that much. The Wildcats are 9-3, but have lost to UCLA, North Carolina, and Memphis. The diehard Wildcats fans expect Kentucky to win these types of games. Tubby might have to get to 25 wins for the clamoring to stop.

Mike Brey, Notre Dame: Yet another successful coach that needs to worry about his job. Brey is 128-71 during his six-plus years at Notre Dame, but there are some rumblings about him potentially losing his job. The main reason is the fact that the Irish have not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2003. ND went 9-7 in both 2004 and 2005 but were relegated to the NIT, and last year, the Irish went 6-10 in Big East play and barely reached the conference tournament. So far this year, Brey has done a fine job at attempting to keep his position. The Irish are 10-1, including wins over Maryland and Alabama. If Brey can put the Irish in the Big Dance this year, he need not worry about his job security.

Tommy Amaker, Michigan: If I had to put money on one coach not being in his current position next season, it would be Amaker. The Wolverines have not reached the NCAA Tournament under Amaker, and he is only 154-126 in his five years at Michigan. They seemed well on their way to the Big Dance last year, but the Wolverines collapsed down the stretch and were forced to play in the NIT. They made the NIT Championship Game, but that is not what Michigan fans want to see. Michigan is not doing much to help Amaker keep his job this year. While they are 10-2, they have been blown out by the two good teams they have played, North Carolina State and UCLA. If they don’t find a way to go on the road and beat teams, Amaker could be gone at the end of the season.

Steve Alford, Iowa: Sure, he got an extension at the end of the season. Didn’t the recently-fired Alabama football coach Mike Shula get one last year, too? In other words, don’t think that Alford is safe just because he got an extension. Additionally, that was under the previous AD, Bob Bowlsby. On the other hand, though, Alford might be the safest coach on this list—which isn’t saying much. He is 135-92 at Iowa, including back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and three trips to the Big Dance overall. The problem is that Alford hasn’t been able to win once he gets into March. The Hawkeyes have won only one game in the NCAA Tournament under Alford. It doesn’t look much better this season—Iowa is 7-6 and seemingly destined for the bottom half of the conference.

Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt: Another coach that needs to start getting to the Big Dance if he wants to be in his position much longer. Stallings is 122-96 at Vanderbilt, but he has reached only one NCAA Tournament despite lofty expectations last season. With the SEC on the rise and several of their teams making legitimate claims as National title contenders, the Commodores are behind the curve. Vandy is 7-4 this season, with losses to Appalachian State and Furman. Moreover, they don’t seem like they will finish any better than fifth in the SEC East division. The strict academic requirements of the university could be hindering his recruiting ability, but he is going to need to find a way to win.

Stan Heath, Arkansas: Another SEC coach in trouble. Heath has felt pressure ever since he took the Arkansas job, as there were rumors last season that he needed to reach the NCAA Tournament—or he would be fired. We will never know if that was true or not, as he led the Razorbacks to the Big Dance for the first time as the Arkansas coach. Despite that, though, Heath is only 61-57 in his four seasons in Fayetteville. Like Alford, Heath received an extension last year through 2011, but the Razorbacks fan base are still not happy with rebuilding seasons. Heath needs to keep winning and contending for Tournament berths. Even that might not be enough, though, as the fans expect to compete for SEC titles and Final Four berths.

Gary Williams, Maryland: Here’s another coach that is under pressure even with a national championship under his belt. Williams is always one of the most intense coaches in the country—seemingly always sweating through his suits during games—but he has struggled lately. The Terrapins have had back-to-back 19-win seasons resulting in the NIT. Moreover, off-court issues and multiple assistant coaches leaving have put a negative spin on Williams’ recent resume. Prior to the NIT appearances, though, Williams had led Maryland to 11 consecutive NCAA Tournament berths, 7 Sweet Sixteens, and even two Final Four berths. Despite that, Williams is in trouble. The Terrapins are 11-2 so far this season, but 0-1 in the ACC. The fans want to see Maryland contend with North Carolina and Duke for league titles—not with Florida State for middle-of-the-pack ACC finishes.

Tim Welsh, Providence: Probably the least known of the coaches on this list, Welsh faces the least pressure to win yet could be on his way out if he doesn’t improve the Friars this season. Welsh is only 127-114 in his eight seasons at Providence, with only two NCAA Tournament appearances. Additionally, the Friars didn’t reach the Big East Tournament last season, and haven’t had a winning season in three years. Don’t count Welsh out yet, though—Providence is a young team on the rise. If Welsh continues to get solid recruits and improve the team, he could have a few years left in him. However, heading into this season, the Friars have struggled mightily with in-state rival Rhode Island (PC won this year’s match-up 95-66) and also fell to Brown earlier this season. That won’t help.

Dave Odom, South Carolina: Despite back-to-back postseason championships, Odom is feeling some pressure to win more in Columbia. The letters in front of those championships is the reason why: NIT. The Gamecocks have won two straight NIT titles, but haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament in more than two seasons. Odom is 100-70 in his five years at South Carolina, but his Gamecocks don’t usually contend for SEC or even division crowns. This season does not bring much optimism for Odom despite a 7-2 record. The Gamecocks struggled with South Carolina State and Princeton at home, and also lost to UC-Irvine by 15. If Odom does not start competing in the SEC, he could feel even more pressure next year.


  1. Gary Williams and Tim Welsh can probably rest easy. Both of their teams are looking stronger than folks predicted this year.

  2. I am a founding memeber of Concerned Fans For UK Basketball. Tubby Smith is clearly on one of the hottest seats of this season.

    Take a look at the final 11 games of this season for Kentucky and you figure out how many this Kentucky team is likely to lose in that 11 game stretch.


  3. Smith is the most overpaid coach of any college sports team, based on results. He has divided the fan base, had 2 early exits in the round of 32 in the last 3 years, and is headed toward his 5th season with TEN or more LOSSES in 8 years, which reflects his performance after riding the coat-tails of the championship caliber talent recruited and developed by Pitino. Smith has never recruited a player who went to the Final Four. Nearly half of the players recruited by Smith have unhappily left UK early. Tubby must go before UK's ELITE status declines further. I am a member of Concerned Fans for UK Basketball.
    Little Baron
    UK 1972 grad

  4. Your article refers to "a professor" at UK trying to buy an ad in the Kentucky Kernel. That "professor" teaches a ONE HOUR class in ethics and it's comical to call him a "professor"'s even more comical when he calls himself one.

    Marc Maggard

  5. When I was researching, I read that he was a professor.

    I didn't know about his teaching style or what class he taught.

  6. It is exactly folks like Marc Maggard that have caused the UK Basketball Program to be in such decline.

    You see Maggard is a wanna be, ham and egger that is a less than medicore individual. I have said this to the man many times and dont mind saying it to him here. His ilk has been responsible for keeping Smith in place and making it acceptable to be a nothing program.

    Smith makes more money than Coach K and Roy Williams put together. Makes you wonder exactly why Smith cant be fired.

    Hmmmmmmmmm, scratching my chin.