The COVID-19 crisis has cost millions of Americans their jobs. But it appears to have saved a few in college basketball.
Several schools that were positioned to consider coaching changes after the 2019-20 college basketball season have opted instead to retain their coaches amid a pandemic that has forced athletic departments to constrict their budgets.
Wake Forest became the first major-conference school to fire a coach in this year's cycle when it parted with Danny Manning in April. But for many institutions, the prospect of paying a multi-million dollar buyout and conducting a thorough coaching search amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis is impractical.
That's good news for a handful of coaches who could use another season to get their programs back on the right track. These five in particular might have the unprecedented times to thank for saving their jobs.
- Shaka Smart | Texas
Maybe the Longhorns would have defeated Texas Tech in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament, secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament and advanced past the opening round of the Big Dance for the first time in Smart's five-year tenure. But there's also a chance they would have ended up on the wrong side of the bubble for the third time in his tenure if the season hadn't been canceled. If the Longhorns had missed the tournament and the economy was still doing well, it's hard to imagine that Smart would have gotten the vote of confidence from university leadership to return for a sixth season.
2. Richard Pitino | Minnesota
When a coach is answering questions about job security on his radio show in early March, it's never a good sign. That was the situation Pitino found himself in as his team struggled in the second half of a brutal Big Ten slate. Minnesota finished Pitino's seventh season 15-16 (8-12 Big Ten). But the pandemic seemed to squash the hot seat talk, and Pitino appears on track to get an eighth year.
3. Jim Christian | Boston College
Then-athletic director Martin Jarmond fired Boston College football coach Steve Addazio in December after he led the program to five bowl appearances in seven years. So why did Christian get the nod to return after the Eagles' basketball program posted a losing record in ACC play for the sixth straight season? It was attributable, at least in part, to the pandemic. "You need to be steady and you need to have calm in uncertain times," Jarmond told the Boston Globe. Alas, Christian is on track to be back for a seventh season.
4. Larry Krystkowiak | Utah
The Utes guaranteed that they would have missed the NCAA Tournament for the fourth season in a row when they lost to Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. Krystkowiak's reported eight-figure buyout might have been prohibitive even in good economic times. But any thoughts of paying it likely vanished with the arrival of the pandemic. Utah welcomes the No. 3 recruiting class in the Pac-12, but the program has dealt with a trend of quality players transferring out under Krystkowiak.
5. Jeff Neubauer | Fordham
The school is undergoing an athletic director transition, which may be part of the reason Neubauer is still around. But the existence of a Twitter account dedicated to getting the coach of a historically irrelevant Atlantic 10 program fired is a telling sign of the times at Fordham. Neubauer arrived with promise after leading Eastern Kentucky to a couple of NCAA Tournament appearances. But the Rams' 2-16 conference record this season was their worst in his five-year tenure. In fact, Fordham's A-10 win total has decreased each season under Neubauer.