The annual coaching hot seat column.
Coaches hate it. Their athletic directors hate it. Their agents hate it.
I’m not over the moon for this either, but it is part of the business of covering sports (at the pro and major-college level).
No one (outside of jilted fans seeking for a shakeup) is rooting for these guys to lose their jobs, which brings added stress to their personal lives and affects the lives of their families. But coaching at a prime post in college basketball is a pressure-packed gig — with a lot of benefits, let’s not forget — and the reality is significant changes are made every year.
So some of the men listed below will wind up getting fired, or will resign, come March. It’s a near-certainty. Others will probably win enough to stay on at their current schools. This 2018-19 season is not a sizzling one for the hot seat, by the way. Two of the Major 7 conferences (the American and the Big 12) don’t have a coach you could reasonably put on the burner heading into November — at least not based on coaching performance. (One Big 12 coach is under watch for other reasons; you’ll see below).
And as was the case last season, if the FBI wasn’t poking around college basketball, the number of nervous coaches in power conferences would be not only less, but lower than in most years.
Below is the list of coaches who are reasonably facing major seasons ahead. If they and their teams do not make the NCAA Tournament, change could be unavoidable. The second section addresses the coaches and schools who have already been affected by the college hoops corruption trial.
Coaches who may need to make the 2019 NCAA Tournament
DePaul: Dave Leitao
- Record at DePaul, record in the Big East: 29-65 | 9-45 entering fourth season in current stint
- Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2007 (was coach at Virginia)
The Blue Demons have remained in the basement of the Big East since Leitao was hired back by DePaul in 2015; he previously coached the program from 2002-05 when it was in Conference USA. DePaul does not project as a 2019 NCAA Tournament team, but there is an interesting wrinkle here. Leitao and his staff have secured two four-star recruits in the Class of 2019. At 247Sports, the Blue Demons have the No. 15-ranked class and could easily/firmly settle in the top 30 by the time 2019’s commitments have wrapped up.
If DePaul’s sub-par again, do you fire Leitao in advance of what he and his staff have achieved with the 2019 class? Would decommitments follow? Well, there’s another thing to consider. DePaul’s name was dragged into the FBI case too, as current assistant Shane Heirman was accused under oath by Brian Bowen Sr. of paying Brian Bowen II to attend the prep school where Heirman coached prior to getting to DePaul. And Heirman was brought on at DePaul in an effort to land Bowen II, whose recruitment was subsequently discovered to be dirty.
St. John’s: Chris Mullin
- Record at St. John’s, record in the Big East: 38-60 | 12-42 entering fourth season
- Last NCAA Tournament appearance: Never
The eligibility (or lack thereof) of Mustapha Heron could prove vital here. With the talent the Johnnies bring back, an NCAA Tournament is going to be expected by the fan base. Shamorie Ponds, who is one of the 10 most gifted college basketball players heading into 2018-19, returns and could put up 20 points per game.
Mullin was brought in to revive the Red Storm and, ostensibly, uplift the Big East’s brand even further. Well, the Big East is expected to take a collective step back this season. That is a door opening for Mullin and SJU. Given his legendary status from his playing days, I’m not convinced Mullin would be fired with another trip to the NIT. But if it happened, it would be justified. This team is too talented to not be punching a ticket come Selection Sunday, and the fan base is aching for relevancy.
Wake Forest: Danny Manning
- Record at Wake Forest, record in the ACC: 54-72 | 20-52 entering fifth season
- Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2017
By the time March gets here, it’ll be 15 years since Wake Forest last made a Sweet 16. (Chris Paul was a freshman on that team.) Manning was brought in to get Wake Forest into the top third of the ACC, but that hasn’t happened yet. The Demon Deacons squeaked into the NCAAs as a No. 11 seed in 2017. Last season was a huge step back, going 11-20, which matched the record from 2015-16.
Prior to Manning, Wake Forest was coached by Jeff Bzdelik for four seasons and Dino Gaudio for three. Both were fired for underperformance. Bzdelik never made the tournament; Gaudio went in two of his three years. Another missed NCAA tourney this season would mark the worst stretch for the program since the mid-1970s. Making matters more complicated, Wake Forest lost Bryant Crawford and Doral Moral last season to early NBA Draft entry. Another factor to consider: Wake Forest assistant coach Jamill Jones was charged with assault in August after a man he allegedly punched in New York died. The case is ongoing.
Boston College: Jim Christian
- Record at BC, record in the ACC: 48-83 | 13-59 entering fifth season
- Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2008 (was coach at Kent State)
Christian is in an interesting spot. Former BC standout Jerome Robinson was the Cinderella story of the 2018 draft. After Robinson helped Boston College to a 19-16 record (its first above-.500 season since 2010-11), he went from trendy second-round pick all the way up to the lottery. And because Robinson was so great in pre-draft evaluation, he had no choice but to go pro.
So now Boston College, which didn’t make last year’s NCAA Tournament, will rely on Ky Bowman (potential All-ACC player) and Jordan Chatman. The Eagles are continually punching up in the ACC. If Christian can replicate last season’s success (beating Duke goes a long way), he could hold on. I think most everyone realizes that BC is now a top-three challenging job in the ACC.
Nebraska: Tim Miles
- Record at Nebraska, record in the Big Ten: 97-97 | 46-62 entering seventh season
- Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2014
Here’s a fascinating situation. After all, it’s Nebraska basketball. The program has made the NCAA Tournament seven times — ever. It has a good coach, meeting relative expectations, with Miles. The Cornhuskers got unlucky last season because of the games it got in-league in a wonky Big Ten (by not getting more chances against the top teams, Nebraska was on the wrong side of the bubble). My understanding is that Miles is gone if NU doesn’t make this season’s Big Dance.
That said, Nebraska should break through. James Palmer Jr. is without debate a top-five player in the Big Ten, and the Huskers are bringing back gobs of production/talent off a 22-win team. Of the guys listed here, only Mullin could maybe make a case for having a better team than Miles.
Penn State: Pat Chambers
- Record at Penn State, record in the Big Ten: 113-122 | 38-88 entering eighth season
- Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2011 (was coach at Boston University)
No matter what your standing is in the greater college basketball hierarchy, at a certain point you have to have a set of values for your coaching handbook if you’re an athletic director in a power conference. Penn State is 0 for 7 under Chambers for making the NCAA Tournament.
I could not find an example in the past 40 years where a coach in a major college hoops league survived his first eight seasons on the job without making at least one NCAA Tournament. (In fact, going 0 for 7 is practically unheard of.) If Penn State falls short again, a change would seem automatic.
Maryland: Mark Turgeon
- Record at Maryland, record in the Big Ten: 157-80 | 69-55 entering eighth season
- Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2017
Turgeon has the best overall record and conference record of any coach listed. Turgeon missing the NCAA Tournament in 2019 would mean the Terps were 3 for 8 under Turgeon in getting to the Big Dance. When you’re Maryland, that’s clearly short of expectations.
Similar to Christian at BC, Turgeon takes a hit this season because he lost a player to the NBA Draft who went higher than expected at season’s end: Kevin Huerter was taken 19th overall by the Atlanta Hawks. Maryland also lost Justin Jackson, who wound up as a second-round pick. Maryland went 19-13 last season, but now it’s not just winning games that has become an issue for Turgeon. His program has been tossed into the mud in the college basketball corruption trial. The defense said in its opening statement that Under Armour was working a deal for $20,000 to get Silvio De Sousa to Maryland … before he wound up at Kansas. The school has also been subpoenaed.
Even if Turgeon and his staff are free and clear of wrongdoing, it’s another example of the FBI investigation bringing PR worries to a school. And at Maryland, which is still dealing with the death of a football player this past offseason, athletic director Damon Evans has no slack to give.
Minnesota: Richard Pitino
- Record at Minnesota, record in the Big Ten: 90-78 | 31-59 entering sixth season
- Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2017
As you can see, the Big Ten stands to have the busiest carousel come March 2019. That said, Minnesota might be the best dark horse pick to win a power league this season. I’m not saying the Gophers are going to pillage the mountaintop in the Big Ten, but it’s not unfathomable. Jordan Murphy is a top-five underrated forward and Amir Coffey will join him on our annual list of the top 100 (and one) players in the sport.
Pitino’s been stop-and-go since he got to Minnesota. If this team goes sub-.500 again (it was 15-17 last season) and wastes that talent, the program should try to start over and bring someone new in. But I don’t think that will happen. I’ve got Minnesota dancing this season.
Washington State: Ernie Kent
- Record at Washington State, record in the Pac-12: 47-77 | 18-54 entering fifth season
- Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2008 (was coach at Oregon)
There may not be a tougher, more overmatched job in a Major 7 conference than Wazzu. Kent’s hiring raised eyebrows when it happened in 2014 and things haven’t gotten better since. Washington State’s failed to finish better than third-worst in the Pac-12 in the past four years.
It’s hard to envision this team breaking through to the NCAAs in 2019. Kent has a proud coaching career, and he’s respected within the profession by many, but Washington State athletic director Pat Chun probably should be closely monitoring potential successors throughout the season. This program needs a creative reboot. It’s been shut out from the Big Dance since Tony Bennett left for Virginia.
The FBI file
Let me be perfectly clear on this front: Within the college basketball industry, opinions widely vary on whether or not the current trial and/or the ones to come in 2019 will amount to coaches actually losing their jobs. Many believe they won’t. Some coaches I’ve spoken with, however, think that eventual NCAA reviews could prompt serious sanctions that eventually induce coaching changes. We’ll see. As of now, no coach at any program who’s been roped into this ordeal is in immediate jeopardy so far as we can tell.
Of course, that changes the minute the trial provides — if it provides — anything concrete that would bring the sheath down on a program or three.
So the coaches below are by no means on any hot seat. Instead, they’re just … floating about the radar. Because there is an ongoing trial, which has already prompted serious allegations under oath and could produce more explosive accusations or documentation, there are a number of coaches whose programs are, at the very least, unnervingly attached to the case. Some coaches/programs could be more vulnerable than others, but essentially everyone agrees: you’re much better off having your name not brought up in this trial (or the next two).
Even if none of the coaches are found to be directly responsible or involved in the wrongdoing uncovered in court, the NCAA could ultimately punish them or their programs, and that could complicate their job status.
This list is privy to change, day to day, based on what unfolds in court.
Oregon: Dana Altman
The Ducks getting brought into this was a headline-making thing on the first real day of the US vs. Gatto et al. trial. The defense team played a wiretapped phone call in court that had Christian Dawkins and Merl Code, two of the defendants in the trial, discussing Oregon offering an “astronomical” amount of money.
No figure was given, no people attached to Oregon were named.
The university put out a statement that it conducted a swift internal review of its staff. It’s satisfied at this stage that the claims made in court so far don’t amount to wrongdoing in its program. Altman said in a press conference on Friday that Oregon never has, and never will, pay a player.
Kansas: Bill Self
Self is the only Hall of Fame coach listed in this story, and it’s hard to imagine Kansas canning him. But Silvio De Sousa, who is enrolled at KU, looks to have a hard eligibility case to win — and Kansas has been lassoed into the Department of Justice’s case. Multiple coaches in recent months told me there was a looming curiosity in the coaching ranks over what the FBI’s case might bring about in regard to Kansas — and how the university would respond.
The FBI subpoenaed Kansas in January and March, but no one at the university has been indicted or pinned with responsibility at this point. (Remember, the DOJ paints KU as a victim; this is what the federal case stands on.) Plus, details like this make the intrigue only swell: per Bowen Sr.’s testimony, Dawkins claimed that Billy Preston was paid $100,000 on behalf of Adidas in connection to his Kansas commitment.
That information is yet to be corroborated in court.
Arizona: Sean Miller
Unlike Altman and Self, Miller not only had an assistant arrested in this case — he had another one accused of offering up $50,000 to land a recruit (Brian Bowen II). That coach is Joe Pasternack, who is now the coach at UC Santa Barbara.
“UC Santa Barbara has not been contacted by any of the federal investigators involved in the college basketball trial in New York City. At this time, we are focused on and excited about the upcoming season,” the school said when reached for comment last week.
Miller’s not only held on to his job, he’s thrived in recruiting despite the FBI saga. The big wait for Miller: will the infamous phone call between him and Dawkins, allegedly discussing Deandre Ayton and six-figure payments, get played in court? That is one of the biggest questions in this trial.
Creighton: Greg McDermott
Brian Bowen Sr. testified that, per his conversations with Dawkins, Creighton assistant Preston Murphy was willing to negotiate a $100,000 payment and prospects of a job for Bowen Sr. if his son attended Creighton. The university subsequently released two statements on the matter. Creighton says it hasn’t been contacted by any investigative bodies and it has not put Murphy on leave, just as is the case with every other coach and school touched by the trial.
UC Santa Barbara: Joe Pasternack
As noted above, Pasternack was depicted by Bowen Sr. — on behalf of phone calls with Dawkins — as a coach willing to negotiate in pay-for-play schemes. The critical aspect of all of this, and it must be emphasized, is the credibility of Dawkins. His character and integrity are already up for debate. So in instances like this, was what Dawkins was telling Bowen Sr. real, or were the offers from coaches grossly inflated if not outright fabricated?
Cal State Northridge: Mark Gottfried
An attorney for James Gatto stated in court that the family of former NC State star freshman Dennis Smith Jr. received $40,000 while in college. Gottfried was coach of the Wolfpack then. But Gottfried, like every other coach on this list, will not be called to testify.
CSUN has yet to play a game under Gottfried, but if more details surface about what went wrong at State under him, Northridge could face as much scrutiny this season as any mid- or small-major program.
UNC-Asheville: Mike Morrell
By proxy, Morrell also brings the University of Texas (and Shaka Smart) into this as well. Though the allegation pales when put against big cash offerings, Bowen Sr. testified that Morrell (repeat after me: per Dawkins’ word) was willing to help with housing for Bowen II when Texas was recruiting him and Morrell was an assistant there. CBS Sports has reached out to Morrell, who is yet to provide a statement.
Texas did put out a statement, though: “In response to the NCAA Board of Governors memo last year charging institutions to examine their men’s basketball programs for possible rules violations, our compliance office conducted a review and did not find any information that substantiates the recent testimony at the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York. We will monitor the information from the court proceedings and continue to cooperate fully should there be any requests from the NCAA.”
And that’s what so much of this hinges on. You’ve got sworn testimony in a federal case that paints college coaches as dirty, but this testimony — to this point — is third-hand information. And if the FBI had dirt on anyone that was hard evidence, you’d think those coaches would be directly in the crosshairs. But that’s not the case yet, and may never be reality.
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