As a new feature of TRC, and because the college sports world is dead as a doornail at the moment, we have decided to sift through the
thousands of hundreds of dozens of email question we received this week and actually take the time to provide an answer. After all, we have a civic duty to share with the general public the unending wealth of know-it-all-ness that has been bestowed upon us. So please send us your email questions and from time to time we will maybe think about possibly answering. As always, your privacy is of utmost importance to us, so only your first name, last initial, and city and state will be shared.
This week’s question comes to us from Eric:
I am the athletic director at a major university in the state of South Carolina that plays in the Southeastern Conference, and am coming up on a huge decision on whether or not to keep my men’s basketball coach. A few years ago, I had to relieve the previous head coach because of consistently average performance. He only made it to one NCAA tournament in eight years, and had just come off two consecutive losing seasons. I will confess that this coach did win back-to-back NIT Championships while in our employ, but in my mind winning the NIT is about like being the smartest person at a Clemson football banquet. Sure, it sounds impressive, but once you look at the competition it turns out to not be such a big deal.
Anyway, we relieved said coach of his duties, and proceeded to hire a guy who looked like a real up-and-comer from a mid-major school that had just finished a run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. He hadn’t really been a hot commodity prior to the tournament, but I admit it’s easy to get caught up in all that March Madness hype and Gus Johnson screaming through the TV like he’s fallen from an airplane. I was mesmerized, and we brought the guy and his up-tempo style and purported recruiting prowess to our school.
His first year went pretty well, as he led the team to a 21-10 record, and even though we lost in the first round of the NIT to a school from North Carolina (all schools from North Carolina are really really good in basketball) we felt like the program was on the right track. Fan support was the best it had been in years, and I thought the hire was a real home run (sorry for the baseball reference, but I love that sport).
But the last three years our teams have been progressively worse. In his fourth year the team is 9-15 and in last place in the conference by two games. Our recruiting class for next year has fallen apart, attendance is embarrassingly low, and unless the young guys on the team now learn to shoot, pass and rebound in the next few months, 2012-2013 doesn’t look much better.
There’s only a small faction of supporters for this coach now, and their only reasoning seems to be that they don’t want to start over again with a new coach. They’re asking for patience.
Oh, and one last thing I should mention – in our excitement early on we accidentally gave this coach a contract extension and his buyout is currently $2 million dollars if I fire him. The good news is the buyout drops to $1.5 million in April.
Help me TRC, what should I do?
Eric H., Columbia, SC
Sounds like quite a mess you have yourself in there. Hopefully your other sports are in much better shape than basketball.
My first piece of advice – don’t do contract negotiations/extensions while drinking.
Second, the world of sports in 2012 is a “win now” business. A coach might not have to win big right away – unless they’re at a school like Kentucky, North Carolina or Kansas – but it’s reasonable to expect steady progress after four years. And to be in last place in the SEC, a conference that hasn’t exactly been lighting it up in basketball recently, after four years on the job is simply not acceptable. I don’t care about history or tradition, you have to be better than that.
It’s a tough call, Eric, and I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes. But think about next year and the year after. What if you keep coming in last, and people continue to stay away from your games? What about the impact in ticket sales, and the overall perception of your program? One and a quarter million dollars is a painful price to pay, but the long-term price could be much higher if you bet on this guy long-term and lose. Plus, starting over isn’t always such a bad thing.
Let him go, Eric. And give your wife the keys to the scotch cabinet.