Coaches on the Hot Seat: Mid-Season

February 5th, 2009

The SEC has already seen two coaching casualties in Dennis Felton and Mark "Got Fired" Gottfried. While the following coaches might make it through the season, their futures, sometimes despite multi-year contracts, are tenuous at best. In the preseason, we put out a similar list, and one of those guys, Felton, has already been axed. Will one of these six guys be the next to go?


Jerry Wainwright, DePaul


If Coach Wainwright finds himself looking for another job come April, he could probably point to Saturday’s debacle against lowly Rutgers as the beginning of the end of his time at DePaul.  The 19-point blowout, a game in which the Blue Demons never led against a team that was previously 0-8 in Big East play, was their ninth straight defeat, and tenth out of their last eleven games. 


Not much was expected out of this year’s DePaul squad, especially with the loss of senior Draelon Burns.   Still, they were expected to beat Morgan State at home, and put up more than 36 points against Northwestern in early December.  And they were certainly were not supposed to begin conference play at 0-10, with a 8-15 overall record, which is what will happen barring a stunning upset of Marquette on Tuesday.


Things should get worse for the Blue Demons.  The first part of their Big East schedule was the easiest, with two games against South Florida, a home game against Cincinnati and the aforementioned Rutgers matchup.  The second half of the schedule features a home and away with Pitt, not to mention games against Louisville, Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette. 


As a new head coach it is always preferable to replace a coach who was let go following a bad season, rather than one who capitalized on his success to go to another program.  Expectations are obviously lower, and coaches enjoy more leeway if they inherit a program in need of rebuilding rather than maintaining.  Unfortunately for Coach Wainwright, he fell into the latter category, replacing Dave Leitao who had back-to-back 20 win seasons before bolting to Virginia. 


Which means the 43-48 record he posted in his first three seasons as coach, with no NCAA Tournament appearances, not to mention the disappointment of enduring his third losing season this year, will probably spell the end of Coach Wainwright’s career in Chicago.  



Pat Knight, Texas Tech


Pat Knight owes his head coaching job to his father, but ironically enough his father may end up costing him it.


With news spreading that the legendary Bobby Knight is interested in coming back to coaching, possibly with Georgia, there is growing talk of whether or not Texas Tech is legally bound to the deal they signed his son to in 2005.


Under the five year contract offered to Pat Knight, which made him the coach-waiting at Texas Tech, Knight would take over for his father “at such time as Robert M. Knight resigns as the University's Head Coach and retires from the coaching profession" (emphasis added).  In other words, the contract seemingly states that Pat Knight would not become coach simply when his father decided to walk away from Lubbock, but rather when he left coaching entirely.  So it is unclear what happens if Bobby Knight comes out of retirement from the coaching profession and goes somewhere else. 


Texas Tech may be looking into that as we speak.  Currently, in Knight’s second year on the bench, the Red Raiders sit at 11-10 and are tied for last place in the Big 12.  They have posted ugly losses already to Lamar, TCU and a 111-66 drubbing to Stanford.  Last season, after taking over for his father after his shocking departure – almost one year ago to the day – Pat Knight lost seven of the team’s last eleven games.


To make matters more interesting, Coach Knight did his best Bobby Knight impersonation last weekend, going completely berserk and getting himself tossed out of the game against Nebraska on Saturday.  The Big 12 Conference actually issued a public reprimand of Coach Knight for running all over court several times, even after he was thrown out, mostly to terrify the referees.


If he was trying to fire up his team in front of the home crowd, it didn’t work.  They lost to the Cornhuskers 82-69, their seventh loss in their last nine games. 



Sidney Lowe, NC State


Coach Lowe seems like he shouldn’t be worried about his job security in Raleigh for a long time.  He was the point guard on the Wolfpack’s 1983 NCAA championship team under Jim Valvano.   He wears a red blazer on game days in honor of his late great coach.  And after leading his team to a stunning run to the ACC Championship game in just his first year as head coach, he was given an extension that keeps him under contract all the way through the 2012-13 season. 


However, this is also the same school that all but pushed Coach Herb Sendek out the door to Arizona State three years ago, after only winning 191 games and leading them to the NCAA Tournament in each of his last five years. 


So suffice it to say, NC State’s current 11-8 record, and tenth place standing in the ACC in Lowe’s third season is enough to put his job in jeopardy, even if he did lose JJ Hickson to the NBA.


In his first season, although he did manage that improbable run through the ACC Tournament, Lowe still only earned five wins in the conference during the regular season.  He second year saw the Wolfpack post a 4-12 ACC record, losing their last nine games and ending up in last place in the conference, despite being nationally ranked in the preseason.


It’s also not making it easier for Lowe that the other three North Carolina ACC schools are all currently competing for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.


It would be premature to let Coach Lowe go after only three seasons, especially considering that Herb Sendek posted an identical ACC record in his first two years on the bench.  It wouldn’t be a surprise, however, if they did.



Jeff Lebo, Auburn


If Coach Lebo’s seat wasn’t already a little toasty before Saturday’s home loss to Vanderbilt, it has definitely warmed up now.


The Commodores, who currently rank second to last in the SEC in scoring and third to last in three point shooting, shot nearly 61% from the field and 59% percent from the 3-point line (making 10 of 17 attempts) in that game.  The loss dropped the Tigers to 13-8 on the season.


After four full seasons, Lebo is 57-64, with only 19 wins in SEC play.  He has yet to garner a winning SEC record, and failed to win more than four conference games in three of those years.  They have been bounced from the SEC Tournament in the first round in each of the last three seasons. 


This season, with a 2-4 start in a conference without a single ranked team, and losses to Mercer and now Vandy, looks to be Coach Lebo’s final one at Auburn unless things really turn around.



Larry Eustachy, Southern Miss


Coach Eustachy was given second chance after his fall from grace at Iowa State six years ago, but he may soon be looking for a third after another disappointing season in Hattiesburg.


Southern Miss’s Saturday loss to UTEP dropped the Golden Eagles to 3-3 in Conference USA, tied for sixth, and a 13-7 record overall. 


In his four full seasons, Eustachy is 60-63, with a 23-39 record in Conference USA.  He has however posted back to back 9-7 conference records in the last two years, after winning only five C-USA games in his first two combined.  But he has yet to take the Golden Eagles to the post-season, and with this season looking more and more like a step back, this time likely will be no different.


This was not what Southern Miss expected when they hired Eustachy on March 25, 2004.  At the time, the school was beside themselves that they managed to land the former AP national coach of the year as their head basketball coach.  The official school statement declared that on that day “Southern Miss basketball turned the corner in its quest to become one of the top programs in Conference USA, if not one of the top programs in the nation.”


With home and aways coming up against both Memphis and UAB, and a rematch against UTEP to close the season at home, there is still an opportunity to make a run against strong competition and help Coach Eustachy keep his job for another season.  If they don’t, his remarkable fall from the top of his profession will continue.



The Sixth Man: Editor's Pick


- Ernie Kent, Oregon


6-15 overall and 0-9 in Pac-10 play. No matter how you slice it, that’s simply not getting the job done. Not only have the Ducks been losing league games, but outside of the Oregon State game, they haven’t even come close to winning one.


Unlike a Jeff Lebo or Sidney Lowe though, Kent can at least point to a successful past as justifications for bringing him back next year. The man’s been a D1 head coach for over 15 years, taken two programs to the Big Dance, reached two Elite Eights and even won a Pac-10 regular season title (and 2 conference tourneys). Plus you have to remember that before Kent arrived in Eugene, Oregon had only made one NCAA Tournament in the previous decade or so. Most coaches would dream about that kind of long-term success.


But the problem is that even before this year’s all-time bad fallout, fans were never quite satisfied with Kent to begin with. From 04 to 06 particularly, his team’s were known solely for their chronic underachievement. Then in 2007, the Ducks made a trip to the Elite Eight, and all seemed well in Nike-land. But since then, the situation has soured once again and Kent might be looking for a job in the off-season.