Pessimism is often a defining trait for the finicky creature that is the College Basketball Coach. At times, many seem to almost bask in the anguish the job brings. For plenty, the idea of being successful can't happen unless there's more than a modicum of misery attached. You ain't winning unless you're whining. Catch them at the right moment and these guys can be some of the most entertainingly miserable people you've ever seen. And they know it. Kvetching is caring.
Oakland coach Greg Kampe attests: "Coaches, as a whole, are the most paranoid people I've ever known in my life."
That said, there is a sincere crisis that's afflicting college basketball. It's an annual tradition for coaches to complain about the offseason calendar, but it's seemingly never been worse than now. There is no offseason anymore.
Due to 1) the transfer portal, 2) NIL earning potential for players, 3) the bonus COVID year that's cycling two more seasons, and 4) a recruiting calendar that is both cumbersome and outmoded for the current climate, the collective mood around college basketball isn't grouchiness or agitation — it's despondency.
"Our industry is not sustainable with the current model," one SEC assistant told CBS Sports. "Every coach says so. We are all exhausted."
Recruits and. For coaches — and this goes for assistants at low-majors making $35,000 just as much as it does for the multi-millionaire faces of the profession — the masses have never felt stretched this thin.
"The calendar doesn't work. I'm not saying it's anyone's fault. It doesn't work," Towson's Pat Skerry said, and like nearly every coach interviewed for this story, he was quick to admit the obvious. "I think every one of us is overpaid, it's just at different levels."
But money made doesn't avert health issues. Earning a nice paycheck doesn't prevent anxiety, depression or acute loads of stress. There can be a better way. Many coaches aren't seeking sympathy — they're looking for logical reworks. CBS Sports spoke with more than two dozen people within college basketball in the past month about this topic, and it's painstakingly clear that most believe the offseason calendar has lost the plot.
"I'm very concerned about our younger coaches," Auburn's Bruce Pearl said. "I'm concerned about them as dads not seeing their kids in-season, and when the season's over, their wives are expecting to surely see your son play baseball, or your daughter play softball, or see a play. But no. We're talking about marriages and kids. This has been the conversation."
After Kansas' Bill Self was forced to rest and not coach his team in last season's NCAA Tournament because of a medical procedure, Pearl was thrown and went to see his team doctor.
"I'm concerned about Bill Self having heart challenges (and) Mike Leach concerns me," Pearl said, referring to the death of Mississippi State's football coach last year. "I'm 63 years old, so there's a health issue there."
Something has to give. If it doesn't, an exodus of sorts could come.
"If we don't change some things, we're going to lose some coaches," Baylor's Scott Drew said. "If I was 25 and I was in this profession now and an ops guy, I would say there's no way I'm grinding my way through this profession. I'm doing something else, unless the rules would change."
Hall of Famers retiring gets noticed and leaves a void. Much less noticeable are the young people trying to work their way up in their 20s and 30s who have quit in the past year-plus due to the strain with this schedule.
Chris LePore might have been the most valuable person in Cincinnati's men's basketball program. LePore was chief of staff for UC men's basketball, and a former assistant under Wes Miller at UNC Greensboro. He officially left the business this month.
"For me, it was about having more time for my kids, having more time for my family," LePore told CBS Sports. "It became very 24/7, 365. You can't really turn it off."
LePore, 31 and with three children under 6, had been mulling the move for more than a year. He has the smarts and potential to eventually be a good head coach, but he said it's not worth the wait in the current climate.
"One of the biggest changes was the transfer portal," LePore said. "Now, the day your season ends, the day you play your last game, you don't really know who's with you in that moment. You're hoping you know the guys who are going to stick with you, but truthfully you don't really know. With the portal, April and May, we're putting more hours into it than during the season, almost. ... It takes a toll. You feel like you don't get an opportunity to catch your breath. That's why I started to feel the burnout."
LePore said coworkers in his new line of work "think I'm an alien" because he was so accustomed to working late on weeknights and practically every weekend. Now, the calls and texts aren't coming in and he has pangs of anxiety because he still feels like he should be working more. Checking out at 5:01 p.m. to play Wiffle Ball with his boys is an exhilarating but odd sensation, LePore said. The concept of PTO blew his mind.
Recruiting is more intense and around-the-clock than ever before, and it stems from roster uncertainty because of players seeking as much playing time and NIL money as possible.
"We've always had to recruit our own players, but not to this magnitude. We've always had to recruit transfers, but not to this magnitude," Drew said.
"As a guy who lost 31 games my first year, I feel like I've done more this offseason than then," Skerry said.
The price (NIL deals aside) is mental and physical tax, not to mention guilt amongst assistants that can linger in an extremely competitive profession. Recruiting isn't just the lifeblood of college basketball. To hear some coaches lay it out, it can also feel like a hamster wheel. It used to be that a team's season would end and players would get a couple of weeks to decompress before meeting with the staff to look ahead. Now it's two days — if that. The portal is a-callin'.
"My good players are getting phone calls that 'you need to go in the portal. If you come here you're going to get this much money," Kampe said. "'I'm a representative of [Big 12 school] and our average NIL deal is $140,000. I'm telling you, you've gotta go in the portal, and the minute you go in the portal, you'll hear from them.' This is happening in the middle of our season."
In the past year, the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division I congress (32 coaches from 32 leagues) has built up momentum and support to do something about it — and ideally as soon as possible.
"Scott Drew's been a rock star in driving this thing," Skerry (who, like many coaches I interviewed, sits on the congress) said.
Drew has been a head coach for two decades. He wants to leave college basketball better than how he found it, and if he were to leave right now, he said that wouldn't be the case.
"Right now it's hard for coaches to recommend the profession to former players and friends until we can get things changed and adjusted," he told CBS Sports. "That's disappointing because it's such a great profession and a chance to influence people in the next generation. It is rewarding in a lot of ways, but at the same time it's gotten to where I've never told people NOT to go into the profession, and most people are saying it's at that point until we get these things rectified."
From a recruiting standpoint, the workload has tripled in the last few years, according to coaches I spoke with. There has to be an exchange, because otherwise circumstances and the environment in the sport is expected to get worse.
"We're tired at the end of the year. We've worked basically seven days a week and the last day we had off was New Year's Eve," Pearl said. "Now, with the exception of a few days at the Final Four, we work every day in April, every weekend, every day at a very high-stress time when an average of 3.5 players per team per year are leaving. It's heartbreaking. Families are breaking up. I've historically not had a lot of guys transfer, this was the most we've ever had. We had three, and it broke my heart."
The good news is this isn't a story about an issue without a resolution. Change is coming to the recruiting calendar thanks to unprecedented unity among coaches.
"Normally you get 60%, 70% on board with whatever, but this was something everybody was on the same page," Drew said. "COVID taught us all some different things, and one of them was: When we didn't go on the road and were with our players more and families more and all had full rosters, we were still able to do our jobs."
What will these changes be? A complete overhaul to the spring recruiting period, more time off around every major holiday, a big shift in July, and elongated dark periods that are expected to better serve coaches, college players and recruits. It amounts to one of the biggest shifts in the calendar in ages.