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Departures like Beard’s still far more exception than the norm

May 24, 2016 Columns No Comments

It would’ve been fun to see an itinerary for former UNLV coach Chris Beard’s tenure as the Runnin’ Rebels coach, all 19 days of it.

One wonders exactly how much moving and unpacking a college basketball coach can do in the immediate weeks after departing one school for a new job. Was there time to pick out a house? An apartment? Maybe this was a one-suitcase trip to start, with the rest on the moving vans arriving later in the summer. Maybe he had to make trips to Wal-Mart for toiletries and In-N-Out for food.

Beard’s hopscotch from Arkansas-Little Rock to Nevada-Las Vegas to Texas Tech didn’t quite set a record for shortest stay for a coach in one location-that would still be Gregg Marshall spending a day at College of Charleston before returning to Winthrop in 2006 and Dana Altman doing the same at Arkansas before returning to Creighton a day later. Suffice to say, though, Beard’s “tenure” will be mentioned in the same breath as those two and others like them for years to come.

The morality of Beard’s move also will continue to be debated for a long time. On the one hand, choosing to leave just seven days after his contract was formally approved and after a number of players left the program soon after his arrival is about as bad as it gets when it comes to that old adage of making a decision and living with the consequences.

On the other hand, can one really blame a guy for wanting what legitimately sounds like his dream job, and-more important-getting to be closer to family?

What we do know is this: Beard’s case is a rare one. And not just the part about taking two jobs in a span of three weeks.

Statistics consistently show, even in this year where we have a rare case where a coach jumped not once but twice in less than a month to what could be considered “better” jobs, that the overwhelming majority of head coaching changes in Division I college basketball are the result of firings, coaches resigning under pressure or making sideways or even backwards career moves by choice-usually because of pressure on the horizon.

Even counting UNLV twice, the fact is this: of the 51 coaching jobs opening this year, a reasonable grading of the changes results in no more than 12 cases of D-I head coaches jumping from one school to another for a better job. And that’s includes several making what might be characterized as lateral moves by some (see: Kyle Smith from Columbia to San Francisco, Jim Engles going from NJIT to Columbia).

The remaining 39 jobs? All came open because coaches were fired, resigned under pressure, left for another job under pressure, or (in a few cases) simply chose to retire or take a similar or lesser job.

Delaware’s Monte Ross didn’t leave for a better job. Neither did Wright State’s Billy Donlon. Or Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Rob Jeter. Tulane’s Ed Conroy, Detroit’s Ray McCallum, Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford-all forced out. So was former UNLV coach Dave Rice, for that matter.

All were fired or resigned under pressure, as were many others like them. Others-such as Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon and Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings-weren’t technically forced out, but left jobs where they would’ve been on the hot seat next year, and anything less than a Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament likely would’ve resulted in their ouster.

Nearly 80% of the open jobs were filled by the ones who typically take them-assistant coaches, small college coaches, coaches already on the hot seat, even unemployed coaches. All completely understandable moves by anyone’s definition.

This year’s numbers are not an exception, either-if anything, they’re the outlier. A year ago, eight of the 40 changes could be characterized as “jumps.” Two years ago it was six of 45. The year before that? Eight of 45.

To calculate this year: 12 of 351 D-I coaching jobs, or 3.4% of them, are coming open because of coaches jumping up the coaching ladder. And that’s a rate higher than the recent norm.

Compare the coach-jumping percentages to the player transfer rates in college basketball, which typically gets estimated at anywhere from 10-15% for one year, as well as data points such as that provided by the NCAA showing that, by the end of their sophomore year of college, around 40% of all Division I men’s basketball players entering as freshmen will have transferred by the end of their sophomore years.

The point is this: the next time someone claims that players are being “restricted” in college basketball because coaches “leave for better jobs all the time, ask them to define “all the time.”

Coaches supposedly are the ones having all the fun taking off for greener pastures, but the numbers show the players are already better than their coaches at the game of jumping ship by choice.

This isn’t to throw a pity party for coaches. A few are guilty of coldly running players off rosters. Furthermore, anyone coaching at the Division I level knows what they are in for. You’re hired to be fired.

At the same time, athletes also know D-I sports are a cutthroat business. Success, playing time, a professional future-none are guaranteed, the same way a coach’s five-year contract doesn’t guarantee he will get to actually coach for five years.

In the cases of coaches, most would stay longer if only their schools allowed them to. It’s the reverse for players; the vast majority of transfers could stay, but are choosing not to.

See how this comparing coaches’ departures to players’ is really apples and oranges?

If one doesn’t like the number of coaching changes in major college sports, then blame the athletic directors. Presidents. Television. Everything that has contributed to a high-pressure, high-risk, high-reward profession where jobs are lost in a couple years if one don’t win enough, even at the low Division I level.

Given that they may lose their job in a few years if they don’t jump now, it’s hard to blame coaches like Beard, Steve Pikiell (from Stony Brook to Rutgers) or Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin to Oklahoma State) when they do move up to take better jobs. The facts are, though, they don’t do it nearly as often as many are led to think.

2016 Hoopville tracking of coaching changes

Twitter: @HoopvilleAdam
E-mail: hoopvilleadam@yahoo.com

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