State of Unrest

Word began circulating yesterday about mutual interest from the University of Cincinnati and Frank Martin regarding their head basketball coach opening. Frank’s name has been linked to other head coaching positions since his arrival in 2014, but this appears to be the most serious threat we have faced in regards to losing our hoops leader. At Cincinnati, basketball is king. At South Carolina, it is a very distant second (and maybe third). At Cincinnati, there is tradition. At South Carolina, there is not. At Cincinnati, there is administrative support. At South Carolina, it seems lukewarm at best. At Cincinnati, there is a rabid fan base. At South Carolina, there is a rabid fan base – when we’re winning.

I think when everything shakes out Frank will stay, which is what I would prefer. I love Frank, I love his personality, and I love his intensity. I don’t love the fact we have only experienced one season of real success in his tenure. And I don’t love the fact major in-state talent keeps fleeing the state like they’re being chased by a swarm of bees. I understand there are underlying circumstances in many of those cases, but we have to figure out a way to fix the situation if we are to ever experience sustained success.

If Frank does leave, it won’t be the end of the world. There is no guarantee that under Frank we are ever going to attain any level of sustained success. We can hire another coach who doesn’t get into any postseason competition and just mosey on our way. And that’s not as big a shot at Frank as you think. He’s not the problem.

The problem is multi-layered, and may or may not include Frank’s coaching ability or recruiting prowess. We may never know, because he’s fighting an uphill battle coaching basketball at South Carolina.

Ray Tanner. Is Ray Tanner giving Frank Martin all the tools he needs to succeed in the SEC or on a national stage? We all love Ray for what he gave us on the diamond. But as the years go by and there is more distance between those National Championships and where we are today, you have to ask if he is the leader we need.

He was hired because of what he accomplished in baseball, not because he was qualified as an administrator. He hasn’t done anything so far to get himself fired, but he also hasn’t done anything to distinguish himself as top flight athletic director. What’s his best move been since he’s been AD? Hiring Justin King? That is not a knock on King, he’s been fantastic, but if that’s the tallest feather you have in your cap as an athletic director…well, it’s not great.

Ray is a turkey sandwich on white bread. Nobody is going to turn it down if that’s all you’ve got for lunch, but at the same time nobody is going to brag to you about what a great lunch they had.

Social media. During football season – hell, during spring practice – we get a video a day getting us pumped up about the program. LET’S GO TO WAR LOOK HOW HARD WE’RE WORKING TO MAKE YOU PROUD SPURS UP GO COCKS at every turn. Did you see that for our Final Four basketball program? Rarely. They seem to get scraps.

Does this matter when it comes to putting the ball in the hoop? Sure it does. These kids love to be loved. They want to see themselves promoted on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And the kids we’re recruiting want to see it too, don’t think it doesn’t factor into their decisions.

Colonial Life Mausoleum. I’ve harped on this for years and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it, but where we play is a hindrance to our program. Almost 25 years ago Sam Cassell called the Dean Dome patrons “a wine and cheese crowd”. And despite the noble efforts of a select few, that’s what we have in the CLA.

I understand why we did it, but we did it at the expense of one of the great fan bases in the country. Because we wanted concerts and regionals and other events, we squeezed South Carolina basketball fans out of the equation. Having 7500 fans in an 18,000 seat arena for an SEC game on a random January weeknight doesn’t scream “basketball school”. Kids don’t want to play in front of fans dressed up as empty seats.

If we ever did decide we wanted to pour resources into our program, Auburn is the role model. They built a gorgeous 9,000 seat arena and gave students prime seats. They created a raucous environment that is fun and intimidating to play in. How I long for the days of the gritty, grimy Carolina Coliseum, where we stood in line for hours for seats directly behind the scorer’s table.

Unfortunately it’s people my age and older who demanded better seats because we gave all the money, and then we sit at the game eating popcorn with our legs crossed checking our work email to see if we missed anything.

Give the power back to the students.

Under Armour. Under Armour is a football brand, and not a great one at that. If we were better at football I probably wouldn’t mind it so much. Nike dominates the college basketball scene, dirty as they might be. Adidas is second, and UA needs binoculars to see them.

Again, I don’t know all the inner workings of our deal, why we decided to re-up with UA, but it’s hard to look at it from a basketball standpoint and call it good for our program.

You probably look at all these things and think “excuses”. But all these excuses add up to something tangible – a consistently mediocre basketball program. And my fear is we’re slipping back into being a consistently mediocre athletic department. We have now had national success in baseball, basketball and football, and as I sit here today it appears we have squandered it all.

Good thing the ladies’ basketball team isn’t experiencing any turmoil…