College Basketball's 10 Worst Major-Conference Coaching Jobs

Scott Henry@@4QuartersRadioFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2012

College Basketball's 10 Worst Major-Conference Coaching Jobs

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    Every college basketball coach aspires to a job with opportunities to play in the national spotlight. That spotlight shines brightest on the so-called "major" conferences like the Big Ten, SEC and ACC, and for good reason.

    Each major conference has programs whose traditions shape the perception of the conference. National championships and numerous deep runs in the NCAA tournament make schools like North Carolina, Michigan State and Kentucky important, and the schools in turn make the conferences important.

    And then there are these schools.

    The ones who muddle through each season, winning 25 percent or less of their conference games in front of arenas filled to 25 percent or less of capacity.

    The ones who hire new coaches every three to five years, plucking a hot new name from mid-major success only to hurl them onto the curb into obscurity.

    The ones whose seasons are neglected for anything related to football, and whose practices are occasionally forced to alternate venues so Bon Jovi can rehearse for a concert. Yes, this happened.

    These are the jobs that those successful mid-major coaches should probably pass on. Don't answer the phone, delete the emails, hide under your desk when an athletic director shows up at your office.

    These programs are black holes, and those who enter are usually forced to abandon all hope.

10. TCU

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    TCU's move to the Big 12 could be a double-edged sword for new coach Trent Johnson.

    Despite the school's proximity to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, top Texas recruits are indifferent to the idea of becoming a Horned Frog.

    Former coach Jim Christian, pictured here either raising the roof or being held up at gunpoint, was reportedly unimpressed with the university's financial commitment to basketball. While TCU plowed $164 million into renovating its football stadium, Daniel-Meyer Coliseum remains tiny and dated by Mountain West standards, let alone the Big 12.

    According to athletic spending data from the Department of Education, only 10 of the 74 Big Six conference schools spent less on men's basketball than TCU in the 2010-11 school year. None of those were in the Big 12.

9. South Carolina

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    South Carolina has lured big-name coaches in football (Steve Spurrier) and women's basketball (Dawn Staley), but tried to go the mid-major route when it hired Darrin Horn from Western Kentucky.

    Horn brought in some top-100 recruits, but had difficulty getting great production out of the likes of Lakeem Jackson and R.J. Slawson. Now, the task falls to Frank Martin, who enjoys a much greater national profile than Horn did.

    The Gamecocks struggled to lure players to Columbia from outside the Carolinas or Florida. Martin, in full spring recruiting emergency mode, reeled in four prospects in two days hailing from as far away as Connecticut and Brooklyn.

    The hiring of Martin from Kansas State is a move designed to get attention nationally and show a commitment to basketball, but those were likely the motivations behind hiring Dave Odom from Wake Forest and Eddie Fogler from Vanderbilt, too.

    Neither of those hires resulted in winning an NCAA tournament game, an increasingly rare feat that hasn't occurred at South Carolina since 1973.

8. Texas Tech

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    Compared to cities like Dallas, Houston, Austin or Waco, Lubbock may as well be the dark side of the moon for college basketball recruits. Those fertile regions can keep players in the area with programs like Texas and Baylor, leaving Texas Tech scrambling.

    TCU's arrival means that Tech is no longer the pauper of Big 12 basketball spending, but it will take a quick jump up the ladder for Tech to begin drawing talent that can pull it up the standings.

    Since joining the Big 12, only the legendary Bob Knight has been able to steer the Red Raiders to the NCAA tournament. The program's image may have taken a hit when Knight left the program to his son Pat, which proved to be slightly above his weight class.

    Tech has a very good arena and a student section that was up for national honors. When the team is down, however, the fan base remembers that it has better things to do with its time. Keeping the crowd engaged and making United Spirit Arena an intimidating home court is job one for current coach Billy Gillispie.

7. Arizona State

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    Arizona State can't be called cheap when it comes to its hoops program, ranking third among current Pac-12 basketball schools in spending during the 2010-11 school year.

    It brought in a coach with a proven major-conference resume, as Herb Sendek was coming off five straight NCAA appearances at NC State when he arrived in Tempe. Since then, Sendek has struggled to keep players satisfied, watching 12 of his players transfer in the past four years.

    The image of players racing for the door can only have a detrimental effect on recruiting, especially when the coach those players are running from has only managed 22 wins in the past two seasons.

    Wells Fargo Arena draws yawns from its patrons and a decent, but not great, rating from noted review site Stadium Journey.

    All of these factors leave ASU gasping as it races to keep up with tradition-rich in-state rival Arizona. State has made four NCAA trips in 30 years, and it may take a younger, fresher coach than Sendek to add to that number.

6. Utah

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    Utah's 2011-12 season should give TCU basketball fans a good idea of what to expect in 2012-13.

    The Utes laid a 3-15 egg in their inaugural run through the Pac-12 after already showing signs of struggle in their last two Mountain West seasons. But, at least the university got paid in full.

    Spending during the Utes' final MWC season was anemic, but still greater than current Pac-12 rivals Oregon State and Washington State. With the influx of Pac-12 money, the university should be able to allocate more resources in the next few years.

    Rick Majerus was able to lure a surprising amount of NBA-caliber talent to Salt Lake City, but since Andrew Bogut became a No. 1 draft pick, the Utes' rosters have looked barren by comparison.

    The venerable Huntsman Center is the Pac-12's biggest basketball arena, but is also over 40 years old and remains best known for hosting the 1979 NCAA championship game between Larry Bird's Indiana State Sycamores and Magic Johnson's Michigan State Spartans.

    Current boss Larry Krystkowiak will have to work hard selling recruits on the prospect of playing UCLA and Arizona while hoping that those recruits aren't interested in playing for UCLA and Arizona.

5. Northwestern

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    It's a knee-jerk generalization to say that Northwestern can't get good recruits because it has higher academic standards. After all, Vanderbilt hasn't had many problems in that regard, and its standards are every bit as rigorous.

    Still, those standards can be daunting, especially for a player with his eye on going to the NBA after a season or two. In addition, the charm of an old barn of a gym like Welsh-Ryan Arena can be lost on a teenager who has other schools showing him high-def scoreboard displays and locker room saunas.

    The atmosphere of Welsh-Ryan could be a strength if not for the fact that alumni of nearly every Big Ten school can be found in the Chicago area. Every Northwestern home game has large pockets of visiting fans, blunting what could be a selling point for the aging building.

    Bill Carmody's 12 years in charge of the Wildcats represent the longest tenure at the school since Dutch Lonborg's 23-year run ended in 1950. Lonborg is also the only coach in school history to match Carmody's four straight winning seasons, and Lonborg's were back in the mid-1930s.

    Considering that Carmody has yet to break the school's historic drought of zero NCAA tournament appearances, his survival is that much more amazing. Still, there's not much to indicate that he's getting closer to changing the school's role as one of the Big Ten's resident sad sacks.

4. Boston College

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    Similar to New York or Chicago, Boston has so many options for pro sports fans that it's hard for a college program to make a lot of noise.

    Boston College struggles to fill its cozy home, the 8,600-seat Conte Arena, averaging a mere 4,700 fans per game last season. This is a disheartening development for a program only one year removed from a 21-win season and four from a run of seven NCAA tournament trips in nine seasons.

    The numbers have been on a steady decline since BC joined the ACC, peaking during the Sweet 16 season of 2005-06.

    Unlike many of the schools on this list, who battle with football for the hearts of their students, BC basketball is often a third-class citizen, trailing not only football, but hockey.

    It's possible to recruit winning talent to Chestnut Hill, as former coach Al Skinner proved. Current coach Steve Donahue just has to figure out for himself how to draw that talent and get the word out about it at the same time.

3. Washington State

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    No Big Six conference program spent less on its basketball program in 2010-11 than Washington State. When a university sits as out of the way as WSU, it needs to spend money to put itself on the radar.

    Pullman is a remote outpost on the eastern edge of Washington, nearer the Snake River than any interstate highway. That's great for those who want to follow the river's path to where Evel Knievel cracked up his Skycycle, but otherwise, it's a hard place to get to.

    In-state rivals Washington and Gonzaga are succeeding on the court, and to be honest, WSU hasn't been terrible. The Cougars are on a run of six straight winning seasons, and Tony Bennett led them to three NCAA tournament wins over two years.

    Despite all of this, 11,671-seat Beasley Coliseum was only 40 percent full last season. Basketball is a second-class citizen in Pullman, trailing behind a fourth-class football program.

    That kind of apathetic fan support makes coach Ken Bone's job much more difficult than it needs to be.

2. DePaul

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    DePaul was among the top 30 basketball spenders in 2010-11, dropping almost $6.5 million. Most of that was on a hefty contract to lure coach Oliver Purnell away from Clemson.

    With only seven wins in Purnell's first season, the university paid almost $925,000 per victory.

    Purnell can't blame football, either. DePaul hasn't fielded a football team since 1939.

    No, DePaul has a similar problem to Boston College in that both get lost in their cities' cacophony of pro sports talk.

    The Blue Demons can't even draw on the strength of a charming old barn of a gym, since they play in the woefully generic Allstate Arena in Rosemont. The AA is too busy being multi-use, with DePaul fighting with teams in the WNBA, AHL, and Arena Football League for scheduling dates, to supply any electric college atmosphere.

    The Allstate is 15 miles from DePaul's campus, which is a trip that students might make if they know they'll be seeing a winning team. If not, there's a lot more to do in Chicago. Stadium Journey eviscerated the DePaul student section: "Anytime the number of members of the pep band is greater than the number of students in the student section, then you have a weak student section."

    Purnell's contract may have taxed the athletic budget to its limits, but DePaul still can't build the war chest big enough to compete for Chicago recruits. A program that has struggled to a 79-138 record in its seven years in the Big East and can't get students excited enough to even show up will have a hard time beating brand-name schools to brand-name recruits.

1. Penn State

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    Coaches simply don't leave a Big Ten program to take over the program at Navy. They just don't.

    They certainly don't leave their alma maters, especially if they're Big Ten programs.

    And they absolutely, under no circumstances, leave their Big Ten alma maters to take over at Navy for less money. Never. Ever.

    Unless they're Ed DeChellis.

    DeChellis bailed on Penn State for a $200,000 pay cut not only because Penn State would routinely bounce his team from its practice courts for career fairs and Bon Jovi rehearsals. The university also refused his requests that his assistants get pay raises, despite their being among the lowest-paid aides in the Big Ten.

    Being neglected for football is one thing. With few exceptions, every Division I-A football program in America drags the rest of its athletic department around by the nose.

    At Penn State, even the women's basketball program gets better treatment. Women's hoop spending in State College was in the top 20 nationwide, while the men's program didn't even make the top 50.

    DeChellis won an NIT championship in 2009, made the NCAA tournament in 2011, and kept his program at or above .500 in conference play two out of his last three seasons. For that, the school still had no interest in extending his contract.

    New coach Patrick Chambers, hired from Boston University, will soon find out that Penn State's athletic department truly gives love a bad name.