NCAA Basketball Coaching Hot Seat: Who's in Trouble at Week 13?
College basketball coaches across the country can always feel the pressure. Even the title winners and seemingly "untouchable" leaders are aware of it.
Teams are entering the most meaningful portion of conference play, and it's the part of the season when many programs take a seat on the seesaw. Consistent on-court execution at this point can spark a strong stretch drive that leads into March Madness, while a series of stumbles can leave coaches searching for answers...and potentially a new job.
As the calender rolls into February, it's an opportune time to examine which coaches are beginning to face substantial scrutiny. Some members of this list entered the season on shaky terms. Others are feeling the heat for the first time.
Although there's still a window for each team to turn things around in 2013, these coaches are currently coping with unstable situations. As desperation sets in on the sideline, let's take a look at those who appear to be entering vulnerable territory.
Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest
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It's impossible for Bzdelik to justify his team's ACC performance since he took over in 2010. The Demon Deacons are 8-31 in conference play under his guidance, a far cry from the squad that reached consecutive NCAA tournaments prior to Bzdelik's hiring.
The embattled coach entered the 2012-2013 campaign with a growing list of detractors. Bzdelik accumulated just five ACC wins during his first two seasons, the program's worst two-year stretch in 25 years.
Despite the struggles, Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman continues to be supportive.
“We’ll sacrifice wins if need be for the long-term success of the program," Wellman told the Charlotte Observer on Jan. 25. "And some of those decisions were really difficult decisions, but there was never any thought the last couple of years with doing anything different because he was following the plan.”
This season has been a mild improvement but Wake Forest's most recent loss may have represented a major step toward Bzdelik's dismissal. The Deacons lost by 20 to conference bottom dweller Georgia Tech on Jan. 26, falling below .500 in ACC action.
Oliver Purnell, DePaul
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Purnell arrived at DePaul as a recognizable figure in the college coaching ranks. He led Clemson to three straight NCAA tournament berths before accepting a lucrative offer to take over the struggling Blue Demons program.
Nearly three years later, DePaul continues to serve as a Big East doormat, and Purnell's star has dimmed. The team is 1-5 against conference opponents this season (including a 38-point drubbing at Pittsburgh), dropping the coach's Big East record to a putrid 5-37 mark.
DePaul entered this season with six of its seven leading scorers back, and Purnell has now had some time to recruit his kind of players. However, the university simply hasn't seen desired returns on the sizable investment it made when prying Purnell away from Clemson.
Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.
Krystkowiak's inclusion on this list is likely a bit premature, but Utah has struggled mightily since the hiring of Krystkowiak, which coincided with the program's move to the Pac-12 Conference.
The former NBA assistant is 15-36 with the Utes and owns an even more troubling 4-22 record in Pac-12 play.
Utah rolled into its conference schedule at 8-4, but things have gone downhill in a hurry. The team is 1-7 versus Pac-12 foes and recently lost at home to Stanford by 31 points.
The struggles led Krystkowiak to hold individual player meetings in mid-January. That's the sign of a coach still searching for answers on his roster.
The Utes have been competitive in most losses, including an overtime defeat at Arizona State, but Krystkowiak's team still hasn't found a way to close out crucial games. Until that happens, it's going to be tough for Utah faithful not to lay the blame on Krystkowiak.
Bill Carmody, Northwestern
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The Bill Carmody Era at Northwestern has often been a mighty big tease for Wildcats fans. A program that has never reached the NCAA tournament has come tantalizingly close under Carmody.
But close may not cut it anymore.
Carmody has established consistency but it's not exactly the kind you grow to appreciate. His teams have reached the NIT in each of the past four seasons, winning at least seven Big Ten games every year during that span.
However, Northwestern has never finished above .500 in conference play under Carmody, and is currently keeping up with the status quo at 3-5. A recent win over nationally ranked Minnesota turned some heads, but there have been many moments like that during his 13-year tenure.
The Wildcats followed up the Minnesota win with a underwhelming loss at struggling Nebraska, serving as a reminder that Carmody's teams can't seem to string together a tournament-worthy season.
Stan Heath, South Florida
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South Florida seemed to finally break through last season when the Bulls made an NCAA tournament run and finished 12-6 in the Big East Conference (tied for fourth). Things have quickly worsened in Tampa this winter, and you have to wonder if the 2012 tourney berth was more an aberration on Heath's resume than a sign that his program has turned a corner.
The Bulls are currently last in the Big East with a 1-7 conference record. In Heath's first five seasons at USF, the program placed 14th or worse in the conference three times, and appears to be on its way to a similar fate in 2013.
USF has lost five of the last six road contests and still faces some of its toughest conference tests. Heath's fate will ultimately be decided by how much stock school officials put in last season's success.
Craig Robinson, Oregon State
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Oregon State tacked on an extra year to Robinson's deal last September, extending his contract through the 2016-17 season. Oregon State's struggles may ensure Robinson takes his money in a to-go container.
After starting this season 9-2, the Beavers have dropped seven of nine games. The slide began with an embarrassing home overtime loss to tiny Towson University (pride of the Colonial Athletic Association).
Oregon State is 1-6 in Pac-12 action and has finished higher than eighth in conference standings just once since Robinson took over in 2008. Overall, he is 28-51 against Pac-12 (and formerly Pac-10) foes.
Robinson may be President Obama's brother-in-law, but that notoriety doesn't do much for his coaching resume. It's hard to see him surviving a steadily worsening win-loss record and fulfilling his current contract.
Ken Bone, Washington State
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Bone gained national prominence by leading Seattle Pacific and Portland State to 10 total NCAA tournament appearances between 1994 and 2009. With each passing game, it's looking more likely that he will drop to 0-4 in that department at Washington State.
The Cougars reached the Sweet Sixteen in 2008, but haven't broken through with Bone at the helm. Washington State posted a 22-32 record in conference play over his first three seasons and sit at just 2-5 this year. An early-season overtime loss to Pepperdine set the tone for a disappointing campaign.
The team's two Pac-12 wins came against Utah and Oregon State, the only squads with fewer conference wins than Washington State. Bone began the season on the hot seat, and his squad's performance has only turned up the heat.
Chris Walker, Texas Tech
Photo courtesy of Sporting News.
Like Kevin Ollie at Connecticut, Chris Walker was promised one season as a quasi-interim head coach. Ollie received a five-year extension in December, but Walker's future in Lubbock remains far from certain.
Walker inherited a messy situation in the wake of Billy Gillispie's September resignation. Last winter the team suffered its worst Big 12 season since 1991, so the Red Raiders really had nowhere to go but up.
Texas Tech (9-9, 2-5) certainly improved from last season, but it remains to be seen whether that will be enough to earn Walker a multi-year deal. The Red Raiders will have plenty of options should the school opt to look outside the program for a coaching match.
Walker could make inroads toward job security with immediate improvement against Big 12 opponents. Each of Texas Tech's conference losses have come by virtue of at least a 14-point deficit.
Ben Braun, Rice
Photo courtesy of Houston Chronicle
After finishing 17-15 and earning a CIT berth last season, a similar run could have put Braun in position to line up a contract extension. Instead, Rice has already matched that loss total and has yet to win a Conference USA contest.
The Owls lost a bevy of talent to transfers before the season, which is a clear sign that players don't necessarily appreciate the vision Braun is trying to push. Braun took California to five NCAA tournament berths between 1997 and 2006, but dreams of a tourney berth are more like delusions of grandeur in Houston these days.
Rice is 4-15 right now, and if things continue to go south, Braun may not even have an opportunity to finish his fifth season with the program.
Johnny Dawkins, Stanford
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It's not that Stanford has bottomed out under the guidance of Dawkins. The team just hasn't showed signs of steady improvement that would lead anyone to believe he has built a conference title contender with the Cardinals.
Dawkins, a former All-American player at Duke, owns a 33-46 conference record. You could argue that Stanford is on the upswing with a 13-12 mark since the 2011 Pac-12 expansion, but the team is desperately lacking a signature win this season.
Stanford still faces highly-ranked Oregon twice and travels to Arizona on Feb. 6, so there will be opportunities to gain momentum heading toward the conference tournament.
Stanford made the NCAA Tournament 13 times in the 14 years preceding Dawkins' arrival in Palo Alto. Now, five straight seasons without a tourney appearance could seal his fate at Stanford.