The coaching carousel in college basketball is a constant topic of conversation — the type of thing industry folks discuss as much as which teams might be sleepers for the Final Four. It’s a fascinating topic, most agree. But the unspoken downside is that people either have to voluntarily move on from or, more likely, lose their jobs for the coaching carousel to annually spin, which means these conversations are sometimes uncomfortable because they’re often directly tied to men receiving life-changing news.
So these columns are never fun.
But, as previously noted, hot-seat situations are a big part of the sport. So here I am, once again, speculating on the futures of people who are largely good men with wives and children who rely on them. Sure, the million-dollar buyouts some will eventually get are nice. But talk to any coach who’s ever had to inform his teenager that the family is uprooting because he didn’t, you know, win enough games, and what that coach will tell you is that the lump-sum payments don’t make that conversation any easier.
That’s my way of trying to make sure it’s crystal-clear that I take no joy in writing this column. I do it not because it’s an awesome time but because it’s normally a good indicator of which programs might be looking for a new coach come March or April. It’s nothing personal. It’s all business. So, without further ado, here’s a list of coaches who might need to have nice seasons to ensure they get a next season.
(Note: Coaches listed in alphabetical order.)
Pat Chambers, Penn State
I’m skeptical anybody could do much better than Pat Chambers has done at Penn State, which is one of the toughest jobs in power-conference basketball. But how many power-conference coaches could miss the NCAA Tournament in nine straight years and return for a 10th? That’s what Chambers will be up against if he doesn’t march the Nittany Lions into the Big Dance this season. In a perfect world, he’ll get there and make his administration’s decision to bring him back an easy one. Because my guess is that Penn State’s next coach probably won’t be as successful as its current coach even if its current coach has only once finished in the top six of the Big Ten standings.
Jim Christian, Boston College
Jim Christian was onlast season and then went 5-13 in the ACC to finish 11th-or-worse in the league for the fifth consecutive year. To the surprise of some, Boston College brought Christian back. But all that means is that he’s under even more pressure to noticeably improve this season — and the fact that Boston College was picked 13th in the ACC’s official preseason poll doesn’t suggest such is a probable outcome.
Tim Jankovich, SMU
SMU is a historically tough job. But a general rule in college coaching is that you need to be better than, or at least as good as, the person you replaced, and Tim Jankovich hasn’t quite met that standard with the Mustangs. He inherited a program from Larry Brown that averaged 26.3 wins in the three seasons before he took over, then immediately won 30 games and AAC Coach of the Year honors. So that was a good start. But SMU has only averaged 16.0 wins over the past two seasons while finishing ninth in the AAC both times. And if the Mustangs finish in the bottom-half of the league once again, which is a likely scenario based on preseason predictions, SMU’s administration could decide to pull the so-called plug.
Dave Leitao, DePaul
In his second stint at DePaul, Dave Leitao is one of four coaches who appeared on last preseason’s hot-seat list and kept their jobs without making the NCAA Tournament. That’s good news, obviously. But it’s not the type of thing that prevents a coach from appearing on the subsequent hot-seat list. So here we are again. And considering the Blue Demons were picked last in the Big East’s official preseason poll, well, Leitao has an uphill climb to ensure he gets a sixth year at this school that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since he took them there in 2004.
Danny Manning, Wake Forest
Danny Manning has been burned by underclassmen making questionable decisions about leaving school — most notably two seasons ago when two of his top three scorers (Bryant Crawford and Doral Moore) both entered the NBA Draft and went unselected. But in this profession, the details rarely save anybody. And unless Wake Forest finishes better than most are anticipating this season, Manning will finish 10th-or-worse in the ACC for the sixth consecutive season — which is rough for a program that regularly went to the NCAA Tournament under former coaches Dave Odom and Skip Prosser.
Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech
Josh Pastner got off to a nice start at Georgia Tech by taking a team that was supposed to be bad and making it respectable while finishing with 21 victories. That earned him ACC Coach of the Year honors in 2017. But his Yellow Jackets still only finished 11th in the ACC that season — and the subsequent two years also weren’t great. Georgia Tech went 13-19 in Year Two and 14-18 in Year Three under Pastner. Combine that with the fact that the program has endured 247Sports, and it seems likely that Pastner needs to have a surprisingly good Year Four to avoid being at risk of never getting to Year Five., and that the most recent recruiting class ranked last in the ACC, according to
Shaka Smart, Texas
Texas fired Rick Barnes in 2015 after he made the NCAA Tournament 16 times in a 17-year span. So Shaka Smart missing the Big Dance in two of the past three seasons is obviously problematic — even if it’s only fair to note that he literally lost his leading scorer midseason in two of those three seasons, which would be tough for any coach to overcome in a league as annually strong as the Big 12. To be clear, that’s not an excuse for Smart’s uneven first four years at UT as much as it’s a possible explanation for Smart’s uneven first four years at UT. It’s why I think some of the criticism is misguided and inappropriate, and why I personally remain a believer in Smart. But, either way, the pressure is mounting for him to breakthrough with a big season. Anything short of that might lead to an uncomfortable March.
Final thought on coaches involved in scandal
No list of hot-seat coaches would be complete without the names of the men facing possible NCAA sanctions — everybody from Arizona’s Sean Miller and Kansas‘ Bill Self to LSU’s Will Wade and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl. But I don’t see much reason to break their situations down individually because, for the most part, they’re all dealing with the same set of circumstances. Their programs have been tied to scandal but their administrations have stood strong with them and will continue to do so unless they can’t.
What might that look like, you ask?
Best I can tell, the only way Miller, Self, Wade or Pearl will not continue in their current roles is if the NCAA hammers them so severely — with suspensions or show-cause penalties or both — that their schools are essentially left with no choice but to move on. Could that happen? Sure, I suppose. But if Arizona, Kansas, LSU or Auburn wanted to make coaching changes, trust me, they would’ve already done it. For various reasons, they decided to stand by their men. And I suspect they’ll continue to do so unless the NCAA makes doing so impractical.