Schuck's Clipboard

Numbers turn college basketball's coaching carousel

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 16, 2020 12:01 am

Steve Hawkins ended up getting swept away by a perfect storm.

Billy Wright could never escape a sinking ship.

And Rick Pitino waited around long enough to become a viable option once again.

There will be other college basketball coaches facing similar fates if and when the game emerges from quarantine. Some will be fired. Some won't find work. Some will be plucked from the scrap pile and given a job because of name recognition. Graduation rates, post-graduate jobs and family values won't matter.

Their fates are tied to victories, losses and dollar signs.

Just look at Hawkins, the former Quincy University coach who has been in Kalamazoo, Mich., for the past 20 years.

His loyalty to Western Michigan University, his overall success on the court and his track record of graduating players and helping them flourish in business and industry didn't matter. With a contract set to expire at the end of May and after enduring back-to-back losing seasons, Hawkins was told his contract was not being renewed.

That's just a different way of saying he was fired.

Why? Did he not win enough? Over a 17-year span as the Broncos head coach, Hawkins compiled a 291-262 record with two NCAA Tournament appearances and four other postseason tournament bids. He is the second winningest coach in Western Michigan history, trailing only Herbert Read and his 345 victories from 1922-49.

He is the only coach in program history to win a Mid-American Conference Tournament championship, doing so in 2004 and 2014, and won eight MAC titles.

Despite that, he wasn't as successful as he needed to be in recent years. Over the past five seasons, Hawkins' teams were 26 games below .500 collectively. During that span, the school hired a new president and appointed six new board members. Back-to-back losing seasons gave them necessary nudge to make a move.

A five-win season sealed Wright's fate at Western Illinois University, although some might suggest his fate was sealed the day he took the job.

Wright spent six seasons at the Macomb school, never winning more than 12 games. His teams won eight or fewer games three times, ultimately spelling his doom. The lack of success of the men's basketball program in general makes it look like a coach killer. Over the past 21 seasons, the Leathernecks have finished .500 or better only twice.

They've won fewer than 10 games 10 times in that span, making it arguably one of the worst jobs in Division I.

Or maybe it's one the best if you see the potential lying within. Winning in Macomb suggests you can win anywhere. Wright couldn't, but that hasn't kept WIU athletic director Danielle Surprenant from hearing from or about a myriad of talented coaches who believe they can.

Picking the right one is the challenge.

Don't expect it to be a big name like Pitino, who was hired at Iona despite the baggage that cost him his job at Louisville. If not for his history of success and his persona, the 67-year-old Pitino wouldn't be in the game, but there he is providing Iona with headlines it wouldn't normally receive.

That's the business of college basketball, where victories, losses and dollar signs dictate everything.