2016-17 College Basketball Coaches on the Hot Seat
The hot seat is a difficult place for head coaches to be, but it’s not a death-knell for anyone’s tenure within a program.
For the last three years, the man at the top of the NBCSports.com Hot Seat list managed to hold onto his job for at least another year. Rick Barnes got Texas back to the NCAA tournament in 2014 before eventually parting ways with the Longhorns in 2015. Mark Turgeon and Melo Trimble brought Maryland back to national relevancy with a terrific year in 2014-15 and Tom Crean’s Big Ten regular season title got him some relief from the Indiana fan base this past year.
If there is someone that would fall into that category on this year’s list, it is probably Steve Alford, who has drawn the ire of the UCLA fan base but who has a roster talented enough to get the Bruin faithful to chill out.
Here are the high-major head coaches whose name you could hear pop-up during the Coaching Carousel this spring.
DO NOT SIT DOWN
Johnny Jones: Jones hasn’t been horrible at LSU. He is 80-51 overall, he reached the NCAA tournament in 2014-15 and he’s never finished below .500 in the SEC. The latter could easily change this year, which is a problem considering that the biggest red flag with Jones is that LSU perennially feels like an underachiever. Last season, he had No. 1 pick Ben Simmons averaging 19 points, 12 boards and five assists and couldn’t get to the NCAA tournament. That’s a bad look.
Kim Anderson: Anderson has six SEC wins in his two years as the head coach of the Missouri Tigers. He’s 19-44 overall, and given the amount of turnover within the program - 11 of the 12 players in the 2013 and 2014 Missouri recruiting classes have transferred or been dismissed from the team - it doesn’t look at if this year will be much different. Throw in a new athletic director, and the former Division II national title-winner has an uphill battle to climb.
Richard Pitino: Part of Pitino’s issue is that he hasn’t been winning. After an NIT title in his first year, he finished 10th in the Big Ten during his second season and went 8-23 and 2-16 in the league last season. That’s bad, but what makes the situation all-the-more dire is that his program has dealt with a myriad of off-the-court issues of late. Sexual assault allegations. Arrests for domestic violence. The Gophers even had a player’s phone get hacked and a sex tape involving multiple team members get released onto social media. Should I mention that the AD that hired him - Norwood Teague - was fired amid a sexual harassment scandal?
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Orlando Antigua: In two seasons at USF, Antigua is 17-48 overall and just 7-29 in the American, and it doesn’t look like the Bulls will be much better this season. If that wasn’t enough, the NCAA is investigating an academic matter that already cost Oliver Antigua, Orlando’s brother, his job as an assistant coach.
Jim Christian: Building a program up from the bottom of the ACC is not an easy thing to do, particularly when you’re Boston College. The Eagles are a college program in a pro sports town in a conference that’s centered 850 miles to the south. I get it. But the Eagles are 20-44 under Christian and 4-32 in ACC play, having lost to 20 consecutive ACC opponents. The only reason BC’s record isn’t uglier is that the Eagles somehow won four straight games to close out the 2014-15 regular season. Can Christian survive another year where his best player’s best memories of playing in the program involve going out to eat?
THEY REALLY NEED A BIG YEAR
Steve Alford: A good year for most programs is probably defined as finishing in the top third of the regular season standings, earning a tournament bid and picking up a win against the program’s biggest rival. That’s not a good year at UCLA. That’s essentially what Alford did for his first two seasons with the Bruins, and that didn’t prevent him from drawing the ire of the influencers in that fanbase despite the fact that he’s recruiting as well as anyone on the west coast.
Coming off of a 15-17 season with a team that has an ideal combination of quality veteran players and super-talented freshmen with a chance to make the jump to the NBA, the Bruins, on paper, look like Pac-12 title contenders and a team that can get to the Final Four. Alford needs this team to be nationally relevant come March or he’s going to see more airplane banners and billboard trucks calling for his ouster.
John Groce: Groce went to the NCAA tournament in his first season with the Illini in 2012-13, but he’s missed the tournament the last three years and has still never recorded an above-.500 season in Big Ten play. He’s been on the wrong end of some injury luck, however, and he actually has a team capable of making a run at an NCAA tournament berth. Throw in some recruiting momentum in the state, and Illinois seems to be trending in the right direction, at least for now.
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Pat Chambers: This will be year six for Chambers in Happy Valley and the best that he’s been able to muster is a 10th place finish in the league and a 7-11 conference record. That said, his best year with Penn State was last season and he’s managed to put together a couple of quality recruiting classes in a row. Six straight years without an NCAA tournament berth is difficult for any coach to overcome in a Power 5 conference, but at a program like Penn State - where basketball isn’t exactly the school’s focal point - trending up may be enough to get him one more year.
Mike Anderson: A longtime Arkansas assistant in the Nolan Richardson years, the plan was for Anderson to take over and bring back the glory years. In the five seasons he’s been in charge, the Razorbacks were nationally relevant just once, a run to the 2015 NCAA tournament’s second round. He has a chance to be very good with this group, led by seniors Moses Kingsley and Dusty Hannahs, but Anderson may need to return to the dance if he’s going to keep his dream job.
Bruce Weber: Weber took over for Frank Martin at a time when Kansas State had grown into national relevancy. He reached two straight NCAA tournaments to start his tenure, but has since gone 32-33 and just 13-23 in the Big 12. This year he has the pieces to make some noise in a league that’s wide-open after Kansas. Will anything short of a trip back to the tournament be enough to stave off a job change?
Jeff Lebo: Lebo has been at East Carolina for six years and has not made an NCAA tournament. In two seasons in the American, he’s 26-39 and just 10-26 in league play. The Pirates basketball program was not exactly a selling point in their pitch to the Big 12.
JUST DON’T BE TERRIBLE, OK?
Tim Miles: This is Miles’ fifth season at Nebraska. He’s only had one year with less than 18 losses and more than six league wins. That was in 2013-14, when the Huskers reached the NCAA tournament. He lost Shavon Shields and Andrew White this offseason. The Huskers are certainly back in a rebuilding mode, but they were also 10th nationally in attendance in 2015 and 11th in 2016. He’s one of college basketball’s most likable characters, popular with the media and still selling tickets. Be better than Rutgers and Minnesota, don’t get fired. It’s a mantra everyone in the Big Ten can live by.
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Lorenzo Romar: Romar hasn’t had a problem landing talent at Washington. He has had five players picked in the first round in the last five years. The issue has been winning: he hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament in any of those five years, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll dance this year even with potential No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz on the roster. But there’s more: Romar has landed a commitment from Michael Porter Jr., a top five player in the Class of 2017, and hired Michael Porter Sr. as an assistant coach. Will that be enough to save his job if Fultz isn’t enough to get the Huskies back to playing in March?
Brad Brownell: It’s been five years since Brownell has gotten Clemson into the NCAA tournament, but this may be the year that he gets it done. As a member of a loaded ACC, he has a couple of critical transfers getting eligible and got a boost when Jaron Blossomgame opted to return to school for his senior season.