Thursday, April 2, 2009

Coaching Carousel

Is it just me, or is there an unusually high number of famous coaches and big-time programs involved this year?

Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, Kentucky, Memphis, Arizona.

Calipari, Pitino, Floyd, Capel, Few, Fox, Pearl.

And I'm sure we are just getting started.

The newest rumors circled today around Tim Floyd and Arizona. Many outlets were reporting that Floyd had, in fact, accepted an offer from Arizona to "replace" Lute Olson. Yes, he went and visited with Jim Livengood in Tucson on Wednesday (and apparently also toyed with the idea of going to Memphis), but Thursday afternoon he squashed those rumors by announcing that he would remain a Trojan.

It was probably a good decision. Arizona is going to be going through a major rebuilding process (especially if Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger decide to go pro). It is more than likely that Memphis will be doing the same thing, but in C-USA, not the Pac-10.

Assuming that no one leaves school early (which is a huge leap of faith - Demar Derozan, Taj Gibson, and Daniel Hackett all could end up in the Draft), USC looks like they could be a Final Four contender. In addition to the three players I mentioned, USC also returns, well, everyone from a team that won the Pac-10 tournament and gave Michigan State everything they could handle in the second round of the dance.

Did I mention they also add 5 star recruit Renardo Sidney to the mix?

Floyd has had some excellent success recruiting at USC, and if he can ever manage to keep one of his McDonald's all-americans for more than a year, Floyd has a chance to actually build a program. It is not often that a coach has an opportunity to create a legacy for himself. At Memphis and Arizona, he would be replacing legends, and thus would be burdened with expectations and pressures that are going to be near impossible to live up to while these teams are rebuilding.

It also isn't too hard to read into Floyd's desire to make himself a legend much the way that Olson did at Arizona. Take a look at this quote the press conference:

"But there is something really special about building your own traditions, your own histories and doing it with a group of guys that you love. ... I have never been more excited to be a Trojan."
Pay raise and school prestige aside, Floyd made the right choice.

But that was far from the only coaching news to come out today. Friday morning, Georgia will announce that they have hired Nevada's Mark Fox as their new basketball coach. Great hire, as Fox has flown under the radar for a while. Nevada has been one of the most consistent mid-majors (is a school in the WAC a mid-major?) this decade.

He also has a knack for landing top-tier talent. If he can get guys like Nick Fazekas, Ramon Sessions, Kirk Snyder (ok, maybe a bad example), and Luke Babbitt to play in Nevada, imagine what he can do coaching at a school that plays in the SEC and is smack in the middle of the talent-laden south.

Not done yet.

Bruce Pearl was one of the guys everyone mentioned when talking about the openings at Memphis and Arizona. But Pearl and Tennessee were able to renegotiate his contract, agreeing to terms on a six-year deal. Again, probably a good decision. Assuming Tyler Smith doesn't go pro, Tennessee returns as much talent as anyone in the country.

Brad Stevens, another young stud on the coaching circuit, has inked a deal with Butler that will keep him in Indianapolis through 2016.

There were even reports that Jamie Dixon, who is from California and whose wife is a USC grad, was considering the would-be opening at USC if Floyd had left.

And I still haven't mentioned the possibility of Jim Calhoun leaving UConn after this season.

So why are there so many big name schools looking for coaches to change zip codes?

Short answer - it is just one of those years. Kentucky is one of the top five coaching gigs in the country. Arizona is top ten. When those schools have an opening, you listen.

Long answer - coaching changes are becoming the trend in sports. It is becoming a more and more cutthroat industry. If you don't win immediately, your job is going to be on the line. And the pressure is only turned up with the deep pockets of the team's boosters and overzealous fan-bases asking "what have you done for me lately".

I mean, look at some of the firings. Billy Gillispie I understand. Not only was he losing games, but he was losing the respect of the fans, the school's administrators, the media, and, most importantly, his players.

Dave Leitao's firing at UVA was probably deserved as well. Other than a freak season where he won a share of the ACC crown (when UNC and Duke were way down) led by two stud guards in Sean Singletary and JR Reynolds, Leitao's tenure in Charlottesville was nothing short of, well, bad.

But Dennis Felton being fired at Georgia? The guy took his team on what was probably the greatest conference tournament game of all time (he won two games in one day!) a year before being canned midway through this season. Remember, this is a Georgia program that was essentially stripped bare by Jim Harrick. But hey, if you coach in Georgia and can't recruit Georgia, you're probably screwed.

And I thought that writing was a tough profession to get into.

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