Help Wanted: Coach
SEATTLE (AP) _ Last year, the student senate at Seton Hall University, weary of seeing the school’s basketball team bring up the rear of the Big East Conference, passed a resolution calling for - what else? - the dismissal of coach P.J. Carlesimo.
It had been six years, one more than the traditional five-year plan, and the Pirates were not making much progress. Enough, the senators said. Get rid of the coach. And they were not alone. Other campus factions were after P.J.’s scalp, too.
Carlesimo survived the crisis only because the Seton Hall administration did not have a particularly itchy trigger finger at the time. And, a year later, he became the toast of South Orange, N.J., after leading his team into the Final Four.
Funny business, this coaching.
In the three weeks since seedings were announced for the NCAA tournament, well over a dozen coaches were either fired or resigned. And that doesn’t include Bill Frieder, who left Michigan for Arizona State two days before his team opened the tournament. The Wolverines shook off that shock by also making it to the Final Four.
Jud Heathcote, coach at Michigan State and president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said the rash of dismissals had given his colleagues plenty to chew over at their convention this weekend.
″In this business, we have to live with a certain amount of insecurity and a certain amount of mobility and a certain amount of uncertainty,″ Heathcote said. ″But the uncertainty takes over when a Don Donoher and a Don DeVoe, established coaches, get fired.
″After a period of time, one or two bad seasons shouldn’t mean a firing.″
How much time?
Twenty-five years? That’s how long Donoher was at Dayton.
Eighteen years? That’s how long DeVoe has been in coaching at Virginia Tech, Wyoming and Tennessee.
Eleven years? That’s how long Bob Donewald was at Illinois State.
All three have winning records for their careers, something P.J. Carlesimo still does not boast. All three also were fired within days of each other after their seasons ended.
This could not have happened if they were faculty members instead of hired guns for their athletic departments, equipped with whistles instead of grade books. Professors don’t hang around campuses for 25 years or 18 years or 11 years without tenure protection. It is a topic that has occurred to coaches before, long before the ax began falling on their brethren with alarming regularity.
″What happened to the ‘Three Ds,’ (Donoher, DeVoe and Donewald) is the wrong message,″ North Carolina coach Dean Smith said. ″It’s hypocrisy and a sad commentary on our educational system. The presidents should step in if a coach is successful and knows how to coach. We need tenure and we should give up some of our perks for it.″
Those perks often are substantial. They include shoe contracts, radio or television shows, country club memberships and salaries usually much higher than those of faculty members.
Some heavyweight coaches like Bobby Knight at Indiana and John Thompson at Georgetown are inherently safe because of who they are. The campus arena at North Carolina is named after Smith. That’s as close to a lifetime guaranteed contract as a coach could ever expect.
Others, though, seem permanently on the edge. At Syracuse, Jim Boeheim won his 300th game in his 13th season, reaching that plateau faster than anyone except Denny Crum at Louisville and Everett Case at North Carolina State. Still, the whispers follow him, even in the wake of a 30-win season when his team reached the round of eight before losing by three points to Illinois.
″If I win 3,000 games here and we lose a couple, there will be people who’ll want to see me fired,″ Boeheim said. ″People remember the losses.″
And, Smith said, in college basketball, their memories are particularly good. ″In the pros, a coach gets fired and he’s almost always offered another job,″ Smith said. ″In college basketball that very rarely happens after being fired. ADs don’t often take a chance.″
Knight called the rash of firings - he is particularly close to Donoher, DeVoe and Donewald - ″a sick thing.″
Instead of filling the vacancies, he said available coaches should snub those programs. ″Let the AD or the chancellor coach.″
Some coaches move before they are moved. Vagabond Larry Brown has bounced back and forth between pro and college jobs, never fired, always moving on his own timetable.
That was what Frieder did at Michigan. Frequently under fire in Ann Arbor, he chose to accept the job at Arizona State on the eve of the NCAA tournament. When that happened, AD Bo Schembechler barred him from coaching through the tournament, turning the team over instead to assistant Steve Fisher, who had no prior head coaching experience.
Should Frieder have been on Michigan’s bench the last three weeks? Smith thinks so.
″Professors can sign with another school but you know they’ll finish the semester,″ he said. ″Bill Frieder should have been coaching the Michigan team in the tournament. What he did was a decision he made for Bill Frieder.″
And Heathcote understood that, even if he didn’t exactly endorse it.
″He abdicated his obligation to the team,″ Heathcote said. ″Ethically, we question that.″
Then he remembered ‘The Three Ds,’ and 10 straight winning seasons for Donewald at Illinois State, Donoher’s .614 winning percentage for 25 years at Dayton, and the 19-11 record and NCAA bid DeVoe took Tennessee to this season.
″You think about how much loyalty schools give to coaches, though,″ he said, ″and you wonder if coaches may not have to look out first for No. 1.″
Then, there was the case of Sam Houston State. With its head coaching job vacant, State went searching for a new man among the ranks of Division I assistants.
When the interview process was complete, the school had its man, plucking one of Ronnie Arrow’s assistants at South Alabama.
His name is Larry Brown.
END ADV for Release Sunday April 2