College Basketball Preview: Coaches on the so-called hot seat
Rick Barnes headlines college basketball's coaches on the hot seat despite making the NCAA tournament in 14 of the past 15 seasons at Texas.
College basketball's preseason is filled with rankings, projections and lists -- all sorts of things designed to set the table for what's to come. I enjoy most of it. But there is nothing I like doing less than listing coaches on the so-called hot seat because it requires me to essentially predict that a certain group of men will be fired in roughly five months.
That's not fun.
They are men with families and roots in communities -- mostly decent men who, for whatever reason, either haven't got it going at their current jobs or no longer have it going at their current jobs. Consequently, they'll enter this 2013-14 season with an unusual amount of pressure because they must know they are, in some cases, at risk of being removed from a job for the first time in their entire lives.
So, yeah, some of our lists run 10-deep.
Or even 100-deep.
But those lists are typically rankings of players or teams or whatever; they aren't literally predicting somebody's professional demise. So this list is purposefully shorter, and it features only coaches who are undeniably entering a year in which not winning at a certain level -- or at least showing enough improvement to generate hope -- will prove costly.
Here is that list (in alphabetical order):
Rick Barnes | Texas
Barnes has made 14 NCAA tournaments in 15 years at Texas. So it's crazy, in some regard, to place him on a list like this. But he still belongs on this list because whatever momentum Barnes once created from coaching college stars like T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant is long gone. The program is in bad shape -- as I detailed in August -- and there's no indication things will improve soon. The Longhorns finished seventh in the Big 12 last season, were picked eighth this season, and there isn't a terrific recruiting class on the way to make anybody believe 2014-15 would be noticeably better. Combine that with the fact that Texas is widely considered to be one of the nation's very best jobs by coaches and people in the industry, and it's difficult to justify letting this magnificent slip in Austin continue. Yes, Barnes had a nice run, and he's accomplished a lot in his 15 years at UT. But he lost an ally when athletic director DeLoss Dodds announced his retirement, and it'll be surprising to nobody when Barnes announces something similar in late March if this season goes as poorly as it should go on paper.
Ken Bone | Washington State
Most coaches will tell you that Washington State is the worst job in the Pac-12, and one of the worst power-conference jobs in the nation. So it's fair to look at what Bone has done through four years in Pullman and consider it reasonable, and that's probably what everybody would do if not for Tony Bennett -- the man who preceded Bone at WSU and made two NCAA tournaments in three seasons before bouncing to Virginia. Bennett set the bar high, perhaps unreasonably so. Either way, that's the standard Bone walked into, and his 26-46 record in Pac-12 games through four years means his fifth year could be his last if things don't turn around, and it's worth noting that Washington State was picked last in the Pac-12 by media members who cover the league.
Ben Braun | Rice
Braun had a long and respectable tenure at California from 1996 to 2008, but his time at Rice has been a mess both on and off the court. There haven't been enough wins, and there's been way too many transfers, and allegations of racial discrimination also put a strange cloud over the program, regardless of whether those allegations were rooted in reality or not. Bottom line, Braun has finished either 10th or last in Conference USA in four of his five years, and it was a little surprising that he survived last season's 5-26 record. Braun getting a seventh year seems unlikely if his sixth year goes how it's projected to go.
Jeff Bzdelik | Wake Forest
I'm not sure if Ron Wellman is a good athletic director. But he's a damn fine friend -- proof being how he gave his longtime pal, Bzdelik, a fourth year at Wake Forest despite the first three seasons being abject disasters. On one hand, I get it, considering Wellman took a chance when he fired Dino Gaudio after back-to-back appearances in the NCAA tournament to hire a man who had just gone 10-38 in league games at Colorado. To pull the so-called trigger after three seasons would be to admit a colossal mistake, and Wellman apparently wants to delay that admission for as long as possible. Again, I understand. But the byproduct of that is a once-proud basketball program suffering through a remarkable downward turn in relevance, and it's too bad for this passionate fan base that merely wants something to believe in.
Johnny Dawkins | Stanford
As I pointed out in the Pac-12 preview, Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir is on record essentially stating that Johnny Dawkins will be moved unless his sixth season results in a trip to the NCAA tournament. That's the definition of the hot seat, and it doesn't bode well for a coach who has never finished better than sixth in the Pac-12. Still, there's hope. Stanford does return its top four scorers from a team that went 9-9 in the league last season. So perhaps the Cardinal can position itself for an at-large bid to the Field of 68. But, if not, well, you know.
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