While there is always speculation on who ought to win the various post-season awards in the conference, the other realm of speculation is on the coaching merry-go-round and who is on the hot seat. Every year, some teams will dispose of their coach, while elsewhere the coaches themselves will seek “greener” pastures. The Pac-12 has been a mess this season, the last three seasons really, and it is certainly worth wondering how much of the conference’s problems are related to the current crew of coaches. Many dismiss the Pac-12’s problems recently based on how many NBA players the Pac-12 has been putting out the last few years and how it descimated the conference talent pool. But, what if there is another reason…What if the league just has too many crappy coaches.
It seems almost certain that some number of coaches will be fired at the end of the season. Some may be undeserving of the honor, but get the hook due to impatient fan bases or “better” options out there. But, in some cases it may be long overdue. Then, there will be the inevitable coach who somehow hangs onto their job for just one more year. Let’s take a look at who may or may not deserve the hook in a few weeks.
1) Kevin O’Neil, USC- This USC team may be the worst Pac-12 team in league history. Even worse than the 2008 Oregon State team that went 0-18 in league play. But, that was a year when the Pac-10 sent six teams to the NCAA tournament and three others played in other post-season tournaments. But, this year’s iteration of the Pac-12 is not the same thing. Not only has USC been losing at an almost record clip, but they are 341st in the nation in scoring and play an extremely boring style of play. Some may defend O’Neil by pointing out he took over a program in choas following the fallout of NCAA sanctions due to the O.J. Mayo affair. In addition, this team has essentially been playing with just six scholarship players all season due to defections, injuries, and so forth. But, does anyone really believe that having a couple of more players would have turned this into a tournament team? O’Neil has been an iffy coach in my opinion for some time now and USC needs to change the dynamic if they want to get the sparkling new Galen Center more than half full on game nights.
2) Herb Sendek, Arizona State- Sendek arrived in Tempe in 2006 one of the hottest commidities in coaching. He was coming off 5 straight NCAA tournaments at NC State. He took over an Arizona State team in turmoil and within one year they were back in the NIT and then one year later, behind James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph were off to the NCAA tournament. But, after some early recruiting successes, Sendek’s teams have fallen on hard times. After going 25-10 in Harden’s sophomore year, they dropped to 22-11, then to 12-19, and currently they sit at just 8-18. Not only that, but they are being blown out in many of their games. Their slow paced style is uninspirational and the team really seems to lack many athletes. The recruiting circuit doesn’t seem all that inspirational as well. But, unless Jahii Carson gets eligible, there really is not optimism currently in the Valley of the Sun. It seems like Sendek’s days are numbered.
3) Craig Robinson, Oregon State- Before arriving in Corvallis, Craig Robinson coached Brown for two years. In his 2nd year in the Ivy League, he managed to coach them to a 19-10 record and a spot in the CBI tournament. Then Oregon State, coming off the first ever winless season in Pac-10 history, hired Robinson to change the dynamics of the program. In Robinson’s first season, Oregon State finished the regular season 13-17 and 7-11 in conference play. For some reason they were given an invite to the CBI (probably because Robinson was Obama’s brother-in-law). Anyways, the team went on a run to go 5-1 in the CBI to win the tournament. Suddenly things were looking up in Corvallis and optimism arrived. But, since then, there really has not been tremendous improvement in the program. The next year they went just 14-18 and 8-10 in conference play. Then, last year they dropped to just 11-20 and just 5-13 in conference play. This year, Oregon State showed some improvement with an increased pace-of-play and started the season 10-2 in a weak non-conference schedule. But, since then they have gone just 5-10 in conference play. At this stage, Robinson is getting to the point where this team is HIS team, with HIS recruits. How long will people be patient with this mediocre play? I don’t expect Robinson to be canned at the end of this season. Mostly because Corvallis is a tough place to recruit into and build a program for. The only coaching options would be to grab a rising young coach from a low-t0-mid major program. But, people in Corvallis will probably start talking about whether it is time to make a change pretty soon.Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak deserves more time.
4) Johnny Dawkins, Stanford- Johnny Dawkins has been an OK coach in this conference in his first four seasons. He has gone 20-14 in his first season (reaching the semi-finals of the CBI that year), then 14-18, 15-16, and now has improved to 18-9 with a .500 conference record. Can Stanford do better? I think they can. They have a national recruiting base and following and they have had big-time success in the past. But, for now I think Dawkins is doing just enough to stick around for another season or two. But, he needs to get to an NCAA tournament at some point if he wants a long term contract extension.
5) Larry Krystkowiak, Utah- Larry K showed up in Salt Lake City after a successful NBA career and coaching the Montana Grizzlies to two NCAA tournaments. He has had to try to pick up the pieces of a massive mess left behind by Jim Boylen. First off, most of the team transferred away before Larry K even arrived on campus. Then, the players left over he inherited had discipline problems, chemistry problems, and lacked the necessary athleticism to compete in the Pac-12, or elsewhere. It was particularly bad when his leading scorer Josh Watkins had so many issues that he was first suspended and then kicked off the team. As bad as this season has been, and it has been nearly historically bad in Pac-10/12 history (along with USC), Krystkowiak deserves a chance to take the reigns of this program with his own players following his own rules. He needed to clean house and deserves the time to complete the process. I think Utah fans are willing to give him some leeway to do so, given his impossible situation this season. But, how long will he get? Let’s just say this…the Utes ought to at least approach a .500 season next year or that seat will start getting pretty warm.
Are there any other coaches in the conference who you think should be worried about their job or who’s seat is getting warm? Add your thoughts in the comments section.