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February 2, 2009
Hoops coaching carousel spinning early
Firing coaches during the season has become prevalent in college football, and it looks as if the trend is moving to college basketball.
Saturday's Alabama-Georgia game featured teams led by Philip Pearson (Alabama) and Pete Hermann (Georgia) because the schools fired coaches Mark Gottfried (Alabama) and Dennis Felton (Georgia) after unsuccessful starts to the SEC season for both.
Felton likely would've been fired after last season except for the Bulldogs' miracle run to the SEC tournament title. Frankly, Georgia athletic director Damon Evans should've gone ahead and removed Felton anyway. Despite the SEC tourney title, there was no reason to expect the Bulldogs to challenge in the SEC East this season. If a coaching change has to be made, make it sooner rather than later.
Felton is a good Xs and Os guy who couldn't recruit the caliber of players needed to legitimately contend in the SEC. Gottfried was the opposite: He was able to get the players, but Alabama never seemed to be a cohesive unit on the floor. The Tide had some great players and some high-caliber athletes under Gottfried, but never did you preview an Alabama game in conference play and say the Tide had the coaching advantage.
Both won big at previous stops in "lesser" leagues, Felton at Western Kentucky and Gottfried at Murray State. At Western, Felton's coaching ability was enough. At Murray State, Gottfried's recruiting ability was enough. Eventually, though, their shortcomings caught up to them.
Those two might not be the only former SEC coaches by the end of the season. Auburn's Jeff Lebo is in his fifth season with the Tigers and hasn't made a postseason appearance, and one doesn't look likely this season. Auburn's basketball facilities might be the worst in the SEC, but the school is opening a new arena, supposedly in time for the 2010-11 season. It seems unlikely Lebo – like Felton a good Xs and Os guy who can't get enough players – will be around to see it open.
Some other coaches in power conferences who likely are looking over their shoulder, afraid they'll see the shadow of their athletic director, are Oregon's Ernie Kent, N.C. States Sidney Lowe, Charlotte's Bobby Lutz, St. John's Norm Roberts, Fordham's Dereck Whittenburg and Maryland's Gary Williams. Remember, too, that Arizona has an interim coach and will be searching for a full-timer after this season.
Maryland and Williams will be especially interesting to watch. The Terps have been to the NIT three times in the past four seasons and have been a slight disappointment this season. Williams, a Maryland alum, is in his 20th season at the school, has averaged a bit more than 20 wins per season and guided the Terps to the 2002 national championship. But there's no question the program has slipped in the ensuing years, and Williams recently was involved in a nasty internal spat – which centered around two former Maryland recruits - that was played out in the newspapers.
Williams is not the easiest guy to get along with, and relations between he and Maryland AD Debbie Yow reportedly are not the best. That Williams called out one of Yow's chief lieutenants in the dispute over the two ex-recruits certainly won't win him any points with Yow.
I'd bet that if the Terps make the NCAA field this season – and they have a shot – he'll be back on the sideline next season. If they fall short of the NCAA tournament, I'd bet Yow will be involved in a coaching search. In that scenario, Arizona and Maryland will be the two best open jobs this offseason.
Those who thought there weren't enough postseason tournaments came in off the ledge last week with the announcement of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. It'll be a 16-team tourney, and organizers will choose their field after the NCAA makes the selections for its tourney and for the NIT. The CBI tourney, which began last season, also still is around, which means 129 teams will be playing in the postseason this season. There are 343 Division teams this season, which means 37.6 percent will be involved in the postseason. That pales in comparison to football and the bowls: 57.1 percent. Organizers of the new tournament say teams whose conferences have less than 50 percent of their teams participating in the NCAA and NIT will be given higher priority.
Saint Mary's is finding out about life without star guard Patrick Mills, and it isn't pretty. Mills, who is the best player in the West Coast Conference and one of the best guards in the nation, broke some bones in his right hand in the first half of Thursday's loss to Gonzaga. Mills had 18 points in 17 first-half minutes but didn't play in the second half, and Gonzaga won 69-62. In their first full game without Mills, the Gaels were blown out 84-66 at Portland. Mills is expected to miss a month, which means he should return in time for the WCC tourney. Luckily for Saint Mary's, the WCC isn't that deep this season. Still, the Gaels may need to win the WCC tourney to make it back to the NCAAs for the second season in a row and third time in five seasons.
We might be only halfway through conference play, but already the push to make the field of 65 is becoming intriguing. The biggest reason: Not that many teams from outside the "Big Six" leagues have that compelling an argument to be in the field as an at-large selection. The Atlantic 10, Colonial, Horizon, Mid-American, Missouri Valley, Sun Belt, West Coast and Western Athletic – conferences that at times in the past have put at least two teams in the field – are down. The only non-"Big Six" league that has been impressive is the Mountain West, which easily could get three bids. And for all the talk about how Conference USA was going to be improved, it sure doesn't look it.
The SEC moved into divisional play beginning with the 1992-93 season and other leagues followed later. One thing to remember when you look at the wide-open race in the SEC West: No division in a "Big Six" league ever has gone without at least one NCAA bid since divisional play began in the 1992-93 season.
Some weird goings-on at Wednesday's Rice-Tulane game. Tulane won 61-59 on a layup at the buzzer by Kevin Sims. Rice didn't make a field goal in the final 9:55 and Sims' layup was the only made field goal in the final 6:05. Despite that long drought in the second half, Rice still shot 50 percent from the field (23-of-46). Also weird was that referee Curtis Shaw tossed the Rice mascot, Sammy the Owl, with 7:47 left in the game (actually, given the lack of offense down the stretch, Sammy should've been happy). Evidently, Sammy took offense after Shaw asked him to move back from the baseline and sort of butted Shaw with his big foam head. Shaw didn't think it was funny and tossed him.
Missouri kicker Jeff Wolfert was a senior this past season, but his athletic career for the Tigers isn't over: He plans to dive for Mizzou this spring. Wolfert was a diver at Missouri before joining the football team as a walk-on in 2006.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has taken on some added responsibilities: He recently was named to the Illinois Reform Commission, a 15-person panel that has been created to examine government ethics rules and recommend reforms. Given the political cesspool that is Illinois, we don't envy him. Heck, it's a lot easier coming up with a game plan to beat Ohio State than it is to try to clean up Illinois politics.
In this day and age, when a successful coach doesn't get an extension, it's news. Thus, it's news that Boise State's Chris Petersen – who is 35-4 in three seasons – is not getting an extension this offseason. Petersen will be entering the third year of a five-year deal that was signed after he led Boise State to an unbeaten record in his first season. "I think at this point we're just going to leave it as it is and then deal with it in the future," AD Gene Bleymaier told the Idaho Statesman newspaper.
New Miami University coach Mike Haywood has hired McNeese State secondary coach Lance Guidry to be the secondary coach on his RedHawks staff. Guidry is the father of highly touted cornerback prospect Janzen Jackson of Lake Charles (La.) Barbe. At one point this offseason, Guidry was set to interview for a job at Tennessee, but he later decided not to interview, telling reporters in Louisiana that any job likely would have been tied in with his son – an LSU commitment – signing with the Vols.
Follow the bouncing assistant: Aaron Roderick was Utah's wide receiver coach this past season. Then, after offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig left to become offensive coordinator at Kansas State, Roderick and running backs coach Dave Schramm were promoted to co-coordinators on Jan. 17. Later that day, Roderick announced he was leaving to become receivers coach at Washington. Last week, Roderick announced he would be returning to Utah – as receivers coach. He told reporters that he felt more comfortable at Utah and admitted to being embarrassed by the situation.