Tuesday, December 7, 2021

College basketball coaches on hot seat: Who might need a good season in 2021-22 to save their job

Last preseason’s Coaches on the Hot Seat column featured the names of five power-conference coaches whose job security seemed iffy, at the time of publication, for one reason or another.

Four of them lost their jobs.

The only one still employed is … Will Wade!

Remarkably, the LSU coach is about to begin his third season since the SEC institution suspended him in March 2019 after it was reported that he was caught discussing what appeared to be a pay-for-play scheme involving Javonte Smart two years earlier. When that happened, the working assumption in basketball circles was that Wade was done at LSU. But, instead, the school actually reinstated him roughly a month later. And all he’s done since is produce back-to-back top-three finishes in the SEC while continuing to successfully recruit five-star prospects and accept millions of dollars in direct deposits.

What an unlikely turn of events.

Some still believe whenever LSU’s IARP case is eventually resolved — i.e., whenever Wade is presumably officially found guilty of Level I violations — that the school will quickly move to fire him with cause. And that’s obviously a possible outcome. But given that IARP cases apparently take a million years to resolve, who knows when that might happen? So I’m not putting #InvincibleWill on this preseason’s list of Coaches on the Hot Seat. He’s already survived two years of inclusion. I’m tired of betting against him.

Jerod Haase, Stanford

Seasons at school: Entering sixth season | Record at school: 82-74 | NCAA Tournament appearances at school: 0

Not many high-major coaches at historically successful programs can last more than five or six years without making the NCAA Tournament, which is among the reasons Haase enters this season with real job-pressure. He’s finished sixth-or-worse four times in his five years at Stanford with zero NCAA Tournament appearances. He’s 44-48 in Pac-12 games. So a sixth straight season without a trip to the Big Dance could be Haase’s last considering Stanford is a place that made the NCAA Tournament 13 times in a 14-year span rom 1995 to 2008.

Tim Jankovich, SMU

Seasons at school: Entering seventh season | Record at school: 101-55 | NCAA Tournament appearances at school: 1

When Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown abruptly resigned in July 2016, it made sense to promote Jankovich — and things got off to a wonderful start. The Mustangs went 30-5 in his first season and won the AAC. But Jankovich is just 28-37 in AAC games over the past four seasons with two ninth-place finishes in the league. That’s not good enough. The truth is that Jankovich now needs a strong season to ensure he gets a sixth year at SMU. But the good news is that he has a team capable of competing for a trip to the NCAA Tournament even if Houston and Memphis are expected to be a level above the Mustangs.

Frank Martin, South Carolina

Seasons at school: Entering 10th season | Record at school: 153-134 | NCAA Tournament appearances at school: 1

Martin will always be an important figure in the history of South Carolina Basketball considering he took the school to its first Elite Eight and Final Four in 2017. That banner will hang forever. But the recent results, even Martin has acknowledged, aren’t great. South Carolina is just 32-37 in SEC games over the past four seasons and has now finished 11th-or-worse in the league in five of Martin’s nine years after his successful run at Kansas State. Understandably, the fanbase wants more. And unless Martin overachieves this season relative to preseason expectations, South Carolina’s administration could choose to move on when the buyout drops considerably on April 1, 2022.

Matt McCall, UMass

Seasons at school: Entering fifth season | Record at school: 46-65 | NCAA Tournament appearances at school: 0

Nobody has been able to even come close to replicating the success John Calipari had at UMass in the 1990s. In the 25 years since he left after guiding the Minutemen to the 1996 Final Four, the school has employed five different head coaches — none of whom have gone on to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. And though there was optimism when UMass hired McCall away from Chattanooga after he went 25-11 in Southern Conference games in a two-year span, there’s no denying things haven’t gone well. McCall is 23-41 in Atlantic 10 games through four years with three finishes of eighth-or-worst in the league. UMass was picked ninth in this preseason’s Atlantic 10 poll. So a breakthrough year is not expected, but that might be what McCall needs to ensure he’s back for a sixth year.

Bruce Weber, Kansas State

Seasons at school: Entering 10th season | Record at school: 170-130 | NCAA Tournament appearances at school: 5

Weber has taken three schools to the NCAA Tournament, coached in a national title game, won six conference regular-season titles, a national coach of the year award, and three conference coach of the year awards. He’s had an amazing career. But his Wildcats finished last in the Big 12 two seasons ago and next-to-last last season while compiling a 7-29 record in league games over that span. Another bottom-third finish that would likely be hard to survive is expected this season. If it plays out that way, Weber, who recently turned 65, could be nudged into retirement.

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