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Year Four to Six (The Hot Seat Years)

After a call went against Syracuse with 10 seconds left against Duke, Jim Boeheim went crazy and was ejected from the game essentially removing any remaining chance Syracuse had to win the game. But as one of the winningest coaches in D1 history and a coach who has won a national championship, people won’t hold the incident against Boeheim for long. This was just one ugly moment in a career of brilliant moments.

Meanwhile a month ago Iowa’s Fran McCaffery was ejected in a loss to Wisconsin and it seems like the topic will never go away. Similarly, we spend forever nit-picking whether McCaffery can ever win close games. The idea that he is a bad close-game coach is silly, but with such a small sample of McCaffery competing in a major conference, the record in close games continues to be emphasized.

This is the difference between a coach with a long-tenure profile and a coach in year four to six with his program. In year four to six, every decision is under the spotlight. And make no mistake, a head coach’s career depends on every decision.

His Job is on the Line

I’m going to start by graphically showing what is common knowledge, that fourth through sixth year head coaches are the most likely to get fired.

In the graphs, I only chart involuntary separations. Coaches that move on to the NBA or are hired to a better college job are essentially not included in the numerator or denominator of the calculation.

In my analysis I drop the 12 programs with the most NCAA tournament wins and appearances in the 64+ team tournament era (1985 to present) because those schools tend to have different expectations. For example, Tubby Smith and Bill Guthridge were forced out despite making the tournament every year at Kentucky and North Carolina. I don’t think it makes sense to include schools with that level of expectations in my sample.

I also throw out schools with very low expectations. I keep only schools with at least nine NCAA tournament appearances and wins in the 64+ team tournament era. This cuts a few power conference programs, like Northwestern (0 NCAA appearances) and Oregon St. (4 appearances, 0 NCAA wins). But this sample includes several high profile mid-majors jobs including the obvious ones (Gonzaga), but also teams like Princeton (10 appearances, 2 wins in the modern era) and Tulsa (11 appearances, 11 wins).

This leaves me with 98 D1 programs in my sample. I look at coaches who start after 1985 and drop all interim head coaches. That leaves me with 381 head coaches who begin their career at one of these 98 high profile programs from 1985 to present.

As the figures show, being a D1 head coach is a very rough way to make a living. Figure 1 shows the probability of surviving past each year. Only a small number of head coaches get fired after the second year. Oklahoma St. head coach Sean Sutton is a recent example. The big years for coach terminations are year 4, 5, and 6. Amazingly, only 50% of coaches that take these high profile jobs survive 6 years.  

 
 

We often talk about how these coach’s jobs depend on making the tournament, and the next table illustrates that. In red, I plot the probability of surviving each year for coaches that have made the tournament every season. If you aren’t coaching at UCLA or Kentucky, you would think that making the tournament every year would be a ticket to perfect job security, but it is not. Jerry Green was essentially forced to resign at Tennessee after four years, despite the fact that he made the tournament every season. (This is even more amazing given Tennessee’s tournament drought before Green was the head coach.) If you are looking for an explanation for the drop in year 6, exhibit A is Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl who was forced out for lying to NCAA investigators, not because of on-court performance.

In contrast, in blue I graph the probability of surviving each year if a coach has never made the NCAA tournament. Obviously, if you have not made the tournament yet, your odds of keeping your job are substantially lower, and the odds of getting fired in year 5 and 6 are very high.

That said, the odds of a coach surviving six years despite never making the tournament are actually higher than I expected. Some recent examples of coaches that have earned a 7th year without making the tournament include Leonard Hamilton at Florida St., Doug Wojcik at Tulsa, and Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss. In year 7, Leonard Hamilton and Andy Kennedy made the NCAA tournament, while Doug Wojcik was fired.

Obviously for coaches with sporadic NCAA appearances, the survival path is somewhere between the blue and red lines.

 
 

This type of job insecurity may seem cruel, but the good news is that it really isn’t getting worse. The next table compares the survival probabilities from 1985-2000 (in blue) to the survival probability from 2000-2013 (in red) and the odds are almost identical. If boosters and athletic directors are inpatient, this isn’t a new trend.

 
 

Efficiency Margins for Fourth to Sixth Year Head Coaches

Next I want to continue my discussion from last week and focus on the fourth to sixth year head coaches. As I’ve just discussed, these are the coaches who have the highest probability of losing their jobs this year. In the tables, I show the efficiency margins (the difference between the adjusted offense and defense) for these teams with the former and current head coach.

Fourth Year

Former Coach

2008

‘09

‘10

New Coach

‘11

‘12

‘13

‘14

Iowa

Todd Lickliter

2

7

-1

Fran McCaffery

6

7

17

23

Creighton

Dana Altman

9

10

5

Greg McDermott

6

14

19

26

Oregon

Ernie Kent

14

0

2

Dana Altman

6

12

16

15

Boise St.

Greg Graham

3

1

0

Leon Rice

7

-1

12

10

Iowa St.

Greg McDermott

4

4

9

Fred Hoiberg

6

16

17

17

St. John's

Norm Roberts

1

3

10

Steve Lavin / Mike Dunlap

14

1

4

15

Colorado

Jeff Bzdelik

4

-2

8

Tad Boyle

13

8

12

11

DePaul

Jerry Wainwright / Tracy Webster

4

-5

-2

Oliver Purnell

-3

2

-1

0

Auburn

Jeff Lebo

2

12

6

Tony Barbee

-5

1

-4

4

UCF

Kirk Speraw

5

1

-1

Donnie Jones

4

7

2

-2

Seton Hall

Bobby Gonzalez

5

9

10

Kevin Willard

11

10

3

9

Clemson

Oliver Purnell

19

18

16

Brad Brownell

17

8

3

12

Houston

Tom Penders

11

9

7

James Dickey

-6

-4

-2

2

B. College

Al Skinner

5

10

9

Steve Donahue

10

-9

6

2

W. Forest

Dino Gaudio

9

16

11

Jeff Bzdelik

-10

-5

2

4

-Greg McDermott’s departure from Iowa St. has worked out well for everyone. Iowa St. hired Fred Hoiberg who has taken the Cyclones to the next level. And McDermott’s son is the national player-of-the-year favorite at Creighton.

-But Oliver Purnell’s departure from Clemson has been a curse for everyone involved. While Brad Brownell has made Clemson competitive this year, they haven’t matched the level that Purnell had the team at before he left. Clemson made the tournament as a 7-seed or better in Purnell’s last three years. And DePaul has actually been as bad under Purnell as they were under Wainwright.

-This is a really brutal year for fourth year coaches, and I think the number who won’t survive another season is high. Jeff Bzdelik has been making some progress lately, but has come nowhere near the level of success the program had under previous coaches. Steve Donahue’s BC team won at Syracuse this week, but it is hard to see how anyone will overlook his team’s complete lack of defense this season. And Tony Barbee doesn’t even have a marquee win like Donahue. Auburn might have played two very close games against Florida this year, but they lost both. Finally, UCF and Houston haven’t traditionally been high profile jobs, but I list them here because neither school’s coach is really performing at a high level right now. The need to compete with the top teams in the American Conference might cause these programs to open up the check-book sooner than expected.

-The best bet to stick around is probably Kevin Willard because he has two Top 50 players in his recruiting class. Still, even with injuries ravaging Seton Hall the last two years, Willard hasn’t been able to get any consistency out of his team.

Fifth Year

Former Coach

2008

‘09

New Coach

‘10

‘11

‘12

‘13

‘14

Kentucky

Billy Gillispie

10

11

John Calipari

24

24

31

10

20

Virginia

Dave Leitao

7

4

Tony Bennett

8

5

13

13

23

Arizona

Kevin O'Neill / Russ Pennell

16

16

Sean Miller

7

18

11

19

26

VCU

Anthony Grant

10

13

Shaka Smart

13

14

13

17

17

Alabama

Mark Gottfried

8

6

A. Grant

11

13

14

10

5

Georgia

Dennis Felton

7

-4

Mark Fox

8

11

5

5

7

Xavier

Sean Miller

19

18

Chris Mack

19

14

12

8

13

Memphis

John Calipari

30

26

Josh Pastner

13

6

20

15

14

Wash. St.

Tony Bennett

21

13

Ken Bone

3

10

7

7

-3

-In November I wrote about coaches whose teams typically get better after January 1st. Mark Fox was on that list, and that’s been true again this season as his team has been far better in SEC play than it was in the non-conference schedule. Fox’s biggest problem isn’t his ability to develop players and coach X’s and O’s. His biggest problem is recruiting. If you look at the recruiting rank of the players on Georgia’s current roster, the Bulldogs are second to last in the SEC. It hurt that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope left early for the NBA, but this is more than a one-player issue. Fox has to upgrade Georgia’s recruiting if he wants to have any chance to keep his job long-term.

Sixth Year

Former Coach

2008

New Coach

‘09

‘10

‘11

‘12

‘13

‘14

Oklahoma St.

Sean Sutton

10

Travis Ford

17

15

9

7

17

16

California

Ben Braun

10

M. Montgomery

16

19

9

14

11

12

UMass

Travis Ford

12

Derek Kellogg

2

0

-2

9

7

13

Oregon St.

Kevin Mouton

-9

Craig Robinson

6

0

0

6

6

5

Stanford

Trent Johnson

20

Johnny Dawkins

13

5

5

13

13

16

Indiana

K. Sampson

16

Tom Crean

-4

-3

7

21

26

9

Marquette

Tom Crean

20

Buzz Williams

20

16

16

18

17

11

-I spent a lot of time in the introduction talking about how making the NCAA tournament is critical to a coach keeping his or her job. And the punch-line to that discussion is an evaluation of Johnny Dawkins. Coaches do sometimes get a 7th year even without a tournament appearance, but it is a long-shot. And even another nice recruiting class might not be enough to quiet skeptics if Stanford fades down the stretch again.

After a big win over UCLA this weekend, clearly Stanford would be in the NCAA tournament if it was held today. But with closing games against Arizona, Arizona St., Colorado, and Utah, Stanford needs to avoid a repeat of the late-season spiral that kept them out of the tournament last year.

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