With Mike Bellotti's ascension to Athletic Director at the University of Oregon in June, two tough decisions will mark the beginning of his tenure. Both of them involve what to do with the currently-disgraced coaches of the basketball programs, Ernie Kent and Bev Smith.
The money is on Smith being let go, but most Oregonians are calling for Kent's head on a platter as well, a common occurrence in and around Eugene. Oregonians are fickle fans and as soon as a coach begins losing, the chants for him or her to get fired increase.
While Kent deserves some (or much of) the blame for this season's atrocious 8-23 record, keep in mind he had six starting freshmen and so needs another year to develop his players and build more chemistry. That, and he has a long record of success that should not be ignored.
Bev Smith has been running a futile program under the shadow of Kent's successful teams for years. Yes, she did have three N.I.T. appearances (and one championship), as well as an NCAA appearance, but the last three years have seen the female Ducks (9-21) underachieve or get blown out by their competition.
Kent, on the other hand, has won two Pac-10 tournaments, five NCAA appearances, two Elite Eight appearances, and two N.I.T. appearances. In 12 seasons, Kent's teams haven't been to the postseason in only five of them.
He is also the winningest coach in Oregon Ducks history, with 308 wins and a 308-237 overall record.
Ducks fans tend to have extremely high expectations and success gets to their heads. It's what makes them some of the most feared fans in the country.
It's also what makes them some of the hardest fans to please. Through his tenure as a Duck coach, Kent has been assailed on all sides by fans and the media when his teams haven't performed as well as many expected.
Give Kent time with young recruits and players and he does produce results. He has recruited good classes almost every year that he's been a coach, and next year with E.J. Singler (Duke player Kyle Singler's little brother), Jamil Wilson, and Jeremy Jacob will impact the team from the start.
Kent recruited a very highly touted class last year and he's got potentially good recruits coming in next year. He needs to produce next season or he's out. Another two-win Pac-10 season will not be acceptable. Sound like a deal?
Three goals for Kent's team next year:
1. Do not lose to Oregon State at home.
2. Win at least half of the Pac-10 games.
3. Win out the nonconference schedule.
Make the NCAA. Making the Big Dance is the goal for every team, but making the NCAA tournament is not out of reach of Kent's team.
His offseason goals should include:
1. Building better team chemistry.
2. A return to the fundamentals, especially for the freshmen and sophomores.
3. Better team play.
Yes, two of those sound similar, but the Ducks played a lot of me-first ball this last season, and that kind of attitude won't win games. Usually, Kent's teams are very much about playing team ball, but it seems some egos got in the way this year. It's an attitude that shouldn't be on the court.
Kent deserves another shot to get it off the court and bring Oregon back to its winning ways. One bad season shouldn't torpedo a successful career.