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College Coaches On The Hot Seat

As I showed last summer, for most coaches the hot seat begins in their fourth year with the team. The exception is “former assistants” whose hot seat tends to be turned on earlier. (Nervous glance at Pat Knight.)

One of the questions I sometimes get asked is whether there is an empirical model to predict when a coach will get fired. The short answer is no. Coaches with good teams can get fired if they blow a big lead in the NCAA tournament or lose too many close games. The full season performance is often less important than what the alumni think about the March track record. 

But the data do help us point out who deserves scrutiny, and who does not. Thus, I am going to focus on fourth through sixth year head coaches and examine who is performing at a high level today, and who is moving their program in the right direction. This continues a series from two weeks ago where I looked at the impact of first through third year head coaches.

Overall Performance

The next table shows the adjusted offensive efficiency, adjusted defensive efficiency, and efficiency margin of each coach, averaged over his tenure with the team.

Fantastic Hires

Team

Coach

Tenure

Avg Adj Off

Avg Adj Def

Avg Eff Marg

West Virginia

Bob Huggins

4

115.6

90.2

25.4

Kansas St.

Frank Martin

4

113.1

91.0

22.1

Missouri

Mike Anderson

5

114.1

92.3

21.8

Tennessee

Bruce Pearl

6

114.1

93.0

21.2

Texas A&M

Mark Turgeon

4

112.7

92.1

20.6

Purdue

Matt Painter

6

109.7

89.3

20.4

Some may think that Frank Martin is on the hot seat for failing to live up to expectations this season, but that is ridiculous. Martin’s teams have consistently been among the nation’s best, including the Elite Eight run last season.

And the reason Tennessee has been willing to keep Bruce Pearl despite his recruiting violations is Pearl’s performance on the court.

No Sustained Success

Team

Coach

Tenure

Avg Adj Off

Avg Adj Def

Avg Eff Marg

Minnesota

Tubby Smith

4

110.2

92.9

17.4

Oklahoma

Jeff Capel III

5

109.9

94.6

15.3

Mississippi

Andy Kennedy

5

112.4

97.8

14.6

Arizona St.

Herb Sendek

5

108.8

94.5

14.3

Nebraska

Doc Sadler

5

106.3

92.4

13.9

Michigan

John Beilein

4

107.8

94.9

12.9

North Carolina St.

Sidney Lowe

5

110.1

97.8

12.2

Cincinnati

Mick Cronin

5

106.0

94.7

11.3

Arkansas

John Pelphrey

4

106.3

96.6

9.7

South Florida

Stan Heath

4

103.4

96.9

6.6

Tubby Smith’s teams have had a number of transfers, injuries, and off-court incidents. But you cannot quite call Minnesota a consistent winner at this point.

The rest of the coaches on this list have all had their share of disappointing seasons.

Relative to Previous Coaches


Next, I look at the average efficiency margin of each coach relative to his predecessor. This is based on the data on kenpom.com, so that I only track predecessors back to the 2002-2003 season.

Fantastic Hires Revisited

Team

Coach

Years of Data

Avg Adj Off

Avg Adj Def

Avg Eff Marg

Impact

Kansas St.

Jim Wooldridge

4

107.2

94.2

13.1

 

Kansas St.

Bob Huggins

1

110.2

91.1

19.1

 

Kansas St.

Frank Martin

4

113.1

91.0

22.1

9.0

West Virginia

John Beilein

5

112.2

95.7

16.5

 

West Virginia

Bob Huggins

4

115.6

90.2

25.4

8.9

Tennessee

Buzz Peterson

3

109.3

96.8

12.6

 

Tennessee

Bruce Pearl

6

114.1

93.0

21.2

8.6

Purdue

Gene Keady

3

105.2

91.7

13.5

 

Purdue

Matt Painter

6

109.7

89.3

20.4

6.9

Missouri

Quin Snyder

3

110.9

94.7

16.2

 

Missouri

Melvin Watkins

1

101.5

101.4

0.1

 

Missouri

Mike Anderson

5

114.1

92.3

21.8

5.6

Texas A&M

Melvin Watkins

2

103.6

100.9

2.7

 

Texas A&M

Billy Gillispie

3

113.9

89.9

24.0

 

Texas A&M

Mark Turgeon

4

112.7

92.1

20.6

-3.4

Of the six coaches performing at an elite level, most have had to rebuild their programs. (Gene Keady had some great tradition at Purdue, but his teams really struggled in his final years with the team.)  Mark Turgeon is the only coach whose program was doing well prior to taking the job.

For the coaches that are struggling, there is a mixed bag. Some have made progress after inheriting struggling programs. Others have seen their programs slip back.

Changing the Culture of Losing

Team

Coach

Years of Data

Avg Adj Off

Avg Adj Def

Avg Eff Marg

Impact

Mississippi

Rod Barnes

4

103.5

96.7

6.8

 

Mississippi

Andy Kennedy

5

112.4

97.8

14.6

7.8

Minnesota

Dan Monson

4

105.2

93.9

11.3

 

Minnesota

Jim Molinari

1

100.3

96.9

3.4

 

Minnesota

Tubby Smith

4

110.2

92.9

17.4

6.1

South Florida

Seth Greenberg

1

101.1

95.5

5.6

 

South Florida

Robert McCullum

4

99.3

97.8

1.5

 

South Florida

Stan Heath

4

103.4

96.9

6.6

5.1

Arizona St.

Rob Evans

4

109.4

99.2

10.2

 

Arizona St.

Herb Sendek

5

108.8

94.5

14.3

4.1

Nebraska

Barry Collier

4

104.7

93.8

10.9

 

Nebraska

Doc Sadler

5

106.3

92.4

13.9

3.0


Mississippi was terrible under Rod Barnes, and Andy Kennedy has turned the team into a consistent .500 level team in the SEC West. But the team cannot seem to break through and become an NCAA tournament team. The data is revealing a clear pattern that Andy Kennedy is not an elite coach. But when is the right time to make a change? And is there any guarantee that the next coach will move Mississippi forward and not back?

Stan Heath’s teams have been terrible, but I think it is worth acknowledging the complete lack of tradition at South Florida, and the fact that he has done better than his predecessor, Robert McCullum.

Doc Sadler’s job security was firmly in doubt heading into this season, and I don’t think the win against Texas is enough to guarantee he will survive Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten. But it certainly helped. It also helps that expectations at Nebraska are not that high.

Neither Winning nor Changing the Culture

Team

Coach

Years of Data

Avg Adj Off

Avg Adj Def

Avg Eff Marg

Impact

Michigan

Tommy Amaker

5

108.2

93.5

14.7

 

Michigan

John Beilein

4

107.8

94.9

12.9

-1.8

Arkansas

Stan Heath

5

106.6

92.1

14.5

 

Arkansas

John Pelphrey

4

106.3

96.6

9.7

-4.8

Oklahoma

Kelvin Sampson

4

111.5

90.3

21.2

 

Oklahoma

Jeff Capel III

5

109.9

94.6

15.3

-5.9

NC State

Herb Sendek

4

115.5

94.1

21.4

 

NC State

Sidney Lowe

5

110.1

97.8

12.2

-9.2

Cincinnati

Bob Huggins

3

111.8

89.5

22.3

 

Cincinnati

Andy Kennedy

1

110.8

94.6

16.2

 

Cincinnati

Mick Cronin

5

106.0

94.7

11.3

-11.0

 
John Beilein is in an interesting case study. I think because he has such a young team this year, and because they turned things around after a 1-6 start in the Big Ten, that he will comfortably keep his job. But he has yet to prove to be a more consistent winner than Tommy Amaker.

After Stan Heath was pushed out of town so quickly, I am surprised at the patience Arkansas fans have expressed towards John Pelphrey. But with the SEC West this weak once again, a losing record in conference play may end Pelphrey’s tenure sooner than expected.

Despite some early success with Blake Griffin, Jeff Capel is having a hard time maintaining the winning tradition at Oklahoma.

And it is hard to imagine a scenario where Sidney Lowe keeps his job at this point. NC State has clearly regressed from the Herb Sendek days.

I think Mick Cronin is a slightly more interesting case, despite what the above table shows. Here are Cronin’s year-by-year numbers:

Cincinnati on the Right Track?

Year

Adj Off

Adj Def

Eff Margin

National Rank

2007

103.7

97.2

6.5

113th

2008

104.6

95.3

9.3

98th

2009

107.6

97.9

9.7

85th

2010

105.4

93.8

11.6

75th

2011

109

89.2

19.6

27th


Cronin inherited a program in shambles, after both Bob Huggins and Andy Kennedy were forced out.  And after a 2-14 year in his first season with the team, he finally has the team on the brink of the NCAA tournament. With a middling finish, because of the team’s weak NCSOS, Cincinnati could still miss the NCAA tournament this season.  But to fire Cronin when he is making this much progress, seems inappropriate.

Conclusion

As I showed last summer, NCAA tournament appearances go a long way towards providing a coach with job security.  And sometimes, even a late conference tournament run can save the day. Dennis Felton of Georgia won the SEC tournament in 2008, and that alone earned him another season as head coach.  So no one (other than Wyoming’s Heath Schroyer) should throw in the towel quite yet.

But for coaches that are not winning, there are never any guarantees. And for coaches that are not winning and not moving the program in the right direction, it may be next to impossible to keep their job.

Who will replace these coaches? Some long tenured quality coaches like Gonzaga’s Mark Few, George Mason’s Jim Larranaga, and Old Dominion’s Blaine Taylor may be unlikely to move at this point. And some newer coaches like Missouri St.’s Cuonzo Martin, or VCU’s Shaka Smart may have too little track record to be a proven choice.

But it is worth noting that a number of the fourth through sixth year head coaches at non-BCS programs are proving to be consistent winners:

Top 5 Non-BCS with 4-6 Years Tenure

Coach

Tenure

Avg Adj Off

Avg Adj Def

Avg Eff Marg

Brigham Young

Dave Rose

6

113.9

93.1

20.7

Butler

Brad Stevens

4

112.1

92.8

19.3

New Mexico

Steve Alford

4

111.7

93.9

17.8

Temple

Fran Dunphy

5

109.8

94.7

15.1

UAB

Mike Davis

5

106.3

93.4

12.8

 
And even more fourth through sixth year coaches have their teams competing for a league title this year:

Proven Program Builders

BYU’s Dave Rose
Temple’s Fran Dunphy
Duquesne’s Ron Everhart
Richmond’s Chris Mooney
UAB’s Mike Davis
Butler’s Brad Stevens
Cleveland St.’s Gary Waters
Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Rob Jeter
Wichita St.’s Gregg Marshall
Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson
Harvard’s Tommy Amaker
Long Beach St.’s Dan Monson
Fairfield’s Ed Cooley
Morehead St.’s Donnie Tyndal
Murray St.’s Billy Kennedy

With some March success, several of these coaches may be moving up to more high profile positions this spring. 

 

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