This is the last place college basketball coaches want to find themselves just days before the start of a new season — on a so-called hot seat list with the implication being that they need to have a nice next few months to avoid losing their jobs in March, if not sooner.
It’s pressure on top of pressure. It doesn’t normally end well.
But hopefully it does!
Because — and I hope it goes without saying, but if it doesn’t, please let me say it — I derive no pleasure from this exercise. Speculating about other people’s job status isn’t fun. It’s awkward. But trying to identify what jobs could open during or after this season has forever been a part of the preseason content. So, here we are again with a list of five men who clearly need a good year to ensure they get a next year.
Brad Brownell, Clemson
Brownell was on this list last November but survived by finishing tied for third in the ACC after being picked No. 11 in the preseason. Still, his Tigers did not make the NCAA Tournament, which means Brownell has only made the Field of 68 three times in 13 years and advanced past the Round of 64 just once. Can he really miss the NCAA Tournament again and survive again? Maybe. But I wouldn’t suggest he try it.
Johnny Dawkins, UCF
Dawkins has made just one NCAA Tournament in seven years at UCF — and that was while the Knights were in the very-manageable American Athletic Conference. UCF is now in the much-tougher Big 12 and was recently picked to finish last. Simply put, it defies logic to think a UCF program that had an average finish of sixth in the AAC under Dawkins will do anything other than consistently get buried in the Big 12. Eventually, that’ll cost Dawkins his job, perhaps as soon as next March.
Mike Hopkins, Washington
Hopkins got off to a nice start at Washington. He won 21 games in his first season and advanced to the second round of the NIT, then won an outright Pac-12 title in his second season while guiding the Huskies to the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. It looked like Washington found a coach who would keep the program at or near the top of the league for the foreseeable future — but the past four years have been more bad than good: The Huskies are 28-50 in their last 78 Pac-12 games and have, on average, finished ninth in the conference and failed to participate in any postseason event. Unless Hopkins dramatically turns things around this season, his seventh year at Washington could be his last.
Jerod Haase, Stanford
Incredibly, this is the third straight preseason that Haase has appeared on this list, which suggests we should maybe name it in his honor someday. The 49-year-old getting an eighth year at Stanford despite making zero NCAA Tournaments in his first seven was probably the biggest surprise of the coaching carousel, in part because Stanford used to be a staple of the NCAA Tournament with 13 appearances in a 14-year span from 1995 to 2008.
Now, the Cardinal never go. And if they fail to play in the NCAA Tournament again this season for what would be the eighth consecutive year under Haase, it’s reasonable to assume a change will be made. Then again, it was reasonable to assume the same thing last season and nothing happened even though Stanford went 7-12 in the Pac-12 and finished 10th in the league standings. So I guess we’ll see.
Kenny Payne, Louisville
Louisville is one of the 10 best programs in college hoops history. It’s a school that won the NCAA Tournament as recently as 2013. Hall of Famers Denny Crum and Rick Pitino coached there. So I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it would’ve been impossible to imagine the Cardinals going 4-28 and finishing No. 290 at KenPom before Payne took the job — but that’s exactly what they did last season in Payne’s first year as a head coach.
Is it possible Payne’s second season will go better? Sure, if only because it would be difficult for it to be worse. But things obviously aren’t off to a great start considering Louisville just lost an exhibition to a mediocre Division II program. (Yikes!) Payne is a nice man and has been a great assistant over the years, but this head-coaching thing just isn’t going well. I realize he’s an alum and that it’s a delicate situation, but there’s no real reason to believe Payne will do enough in the coming months to convince Louisville’s administration that a third season is warranted. By March, school officials will probably realize they should’ve done after Year 1 what they’ll likely do after Year 2.