College Basketball Coaches on the Hot Seat with March Approaching
Kevin Ollie led Connecticut to the Division I men's college basketball national championship in 2014, but a third missed NCAA tournament in four years and a possible second consecutive sub-.500 season got Ollie a spot at the top of the hot-seat rankings.
Because contract details and buyout information are as much a part of these decisions as wins and recruiting class rankings, that data (when publicly available) is included and considered in this rankings process. We always speculate as to whether a program could even find a better coach than the one it currently has, but it often boils down to a question of whether the cost to replace the coach is less than the cost of living with another year of what he is doing to the program.
That said, wins and losses matter a lot, and most of the coaches on this list simply have not been winning.
Just like every year, there will be dozens of coaching changes this offseason, but most of those will be contained to the minor and mid-major conferences. For this exercise, we're only interested in the seven primary conferences—ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and American. Candidates from that pool are ranked in ascending order of how likely it is that they get the ax within the next two months.
Two quick notes before we dive in:
- Andy Kennedy has already left Ole Miss, so he is not a candidate for consideration.
- I'm not here to speculate about the FBI situation. If you think Bruce Pearl and Sean Miller belong on the hot seat because of that, you might be right. But considering Auburn and Arizona are both Top 15 teams right now, we're not going to include them in our rankings just because they might be in some trouble if and when anything comes from that investigation.
Coaches with Ridiculous Buyouts
Not all contract information is readily available. For some reason, one could read the entire contract for Greg Gard at Wisconsin, but no one seems to know any of the details surrounding the employment of Pittsburgh's Kevin Stallings or Penn State's Patrick Chambers. But from the contracts and buyouts that we do know about, these are the ones that might be a bit too high to justify a coaching change, even though they haven't been living up to expectations.
Tubby Smith, Memphis
Short of involvement with the FBI scandal, things have gone about as poorly as they possibly could go with Smith leading the Tigers.
They've lost a bunch of key transfers, including the two Lawson brothers. They aren't signing quality recruits. And their performance on the court has been dreadful. But Smith is owed $9.75 million through the end of the 2021 season, and Memphis is required to pay that money in full, even if it fires him. That's a lot of money to pay someone to go away, but it might be worth it.
Steve Alford, UCLA
Alford has taken a lot of flak for a coach who has won more than 60 games over .500 in the past five seasons, but such is life in the pressure cooker that is UCLA. In spite of the shoplifting scandal in China, the Bruins are in good shape to make the tournament for the fourth time in the last five years. Should they do so, it's hard to believe the decision-makers at the university could justify forking over a $5.2 million buyout to get rid of him.
Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech
Pastner signed a one-year extension in October, but in the original contract terms, the buyout to terminate him at the end of this season would be $7.745 million. Despite the disappointing record this year and all the off-the-court distractions he has brought because of his former relationship with booster Ron Bell, that's way too much money to pay to fire someone who unexpectedly won 21 games in his first season.
8. Greg Gard, Wisconsin
Contract Details: Signed through 2022; $2.5 million buyout
Overall Record: 53-34; third season; two NCAA tournament appearances
Cause for Disappointment
Greg Gard's first season in relief of Bo Ryan was incredible. The Badgers were 7-5 when Ryan abruptly retired in December 2015. They eventually fell to 9-9. But Gard led them to an 11-2 record over the final 13 regular-season games. They finished off that strong close with a trip to the Sweet 16.
But last year didn't go anywhere near as well as it was supposed to. Wisconsin was a preseason AP Top 10 team with virtually everyone returning from the previous season. It started out 21-3, but it didn't have any great wins and sputtered to the finish line as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. Of course, the Badgers went on to upset No. 1 Villanova to reach the Sweet 16 yet again, so all was forgiven.
This year has been a disaster, though. The Badgers are 12-16 and guaranteed to finish with a sub-.500 Big Ten record for the first time since 1997-98.
It makes sense that they would struggle after losing four senior starters, but this program has lost four senior starters in one offseason in the past and didn't crash and burn like this.
And keep in mind, back when Ryan retired, the idea was that by quitting midseason, he was forcing athletic director Barry Alvarez to at least give Gard an extended audition for the job. Even after the coaching change happened, Alvarez was committed to conducting a coaching search after the season. Gard eventually steered his way into a full-time gig and that might be water under the bridge at this point, but Alvarez might also want to use this decline as an excuse to find the type of guy he wanted three years ago.
He'll probably get one more season, though, if only because it's cruel to fire a coach who is forced to rely almost entirely upon freshmen and sophomores. Based solely on development and experience, Wisconsin should be much improved in 2018-19. But if the Badgers miss the tournament again, Gard will likely get the boot.
7. Wayne Tinkle, Oregon State
Contract Details: Approximately $2 million per year through 2022; $1.5 million buyout
Overall Record: 54-65; fourth season; one NCAA tournament appearance
Cause for Disappointment
Oregon State was one of the worst teams in the entire country last year. The Beavers went 5-27 and were beaten by a double-digit margin in 16 of those games. The two rivalry losses to Oregon came by a combined margin of 63 points.
Long story short, it was bad. But it was a season plagued by injuries and offseason departures.
Not only did Oregon State lose Gary Payton II from the previous year—its first NCAA tournament appearance in more than a quarter of a century—but three key rotational players graduated (Olaf Schaftenaar, Langston Morris-Walker and Jarmal Reid) and two others transferred (Malcolm Duvivier and Derrick Bruce). By the time the Beavers lost Tres Tinkle and Cheikh N'diaye to injuries less than a month into the season, they were basically starting over from scratch.
As a result, Tinkle was given a mulligan for that disaster, but what's the excuse this year?
The Beavers brought back everyone from last season and have been relatively healthy, but they're sitting at 13-13 overall and only have a couple of wins even remotely worth mentioning. At least they aren't getting repeatedly blown out this year, as only one of their 13 losses was by double digits. But isn't losing close games over and over again even more of an indictment against Tinkle's coaching than blowouts?
As with Greg Gard at Wisconsin, there's a good chance Tinkle will get one more year, since almost everyone on the roster still has at least one year of eligibility remaining. Plus, his son Tres is the leading scorer and only a redshirt sophomore. If Oregon State decides to fire Tinkle, its best player might skip town. And that's probably not a risk this program can afford to take.
6. Patrick Chambers, Penn State
Contract Details: Undisclosed; signed through 2019
Overall Record: 105-118; seventh season; zero NCAA tournament appearances
Cause for Disappointment
One month ago, Patrick Chambers would've been a virtual lock for No. 1 on this list. At the very least, he would've been in the top three while saddled with a 13-8 record and no quality wins in what seemed destined to be a seventh straight season without a trip to the Big Dance.
But then the team started winning games it usually doesn't.
Penn State swept Ohio State. It picked up a nice victory over Maryland. It darn near won a road game against Purdue and it put up one heck of a good fight at Michigan State.
Out of nowhere, Penn State is right there in the bubble conversation and playing its best basketball in decades. The Nittany Lions entered Tuesday at No. 25 in the KenPom.com rankings. They've never finished in the top 80 under Chambers and haven't finished in KenPom's top 45 dating back to 2002.
If they do make the tournament, it would be more than enough to save Chambers' job.
That's still a big "if," though. The Bracket Matrix website has Penn State in the "next four out," appearing in just six of 107 projected brackets. The Lions probably need to win each of their two remaining games (Michigan, at Nebraska) in order to have a rock-solid case for a bid.
Even if they fall short, maybe this run to relevance will convince Penn State to give Chambers at least one more year. He's certainly recruiting at a high level, and it's finally paying dividends on the court.
But if the Nittany Lions sputter to the finish line by losing both of their remaining games, the higher-ups at State College will need to decide if they're comfortable sticking with a guy who can't seem to get this program over the top.
5. Mark Fox, Georgia
Contract Details: Approximately $2 million per year through 2020; $1.1 million buyout
Overall Record: 159-129; ninth season; two NCAA tournament appearances
Cause for Disappointment
No one at Georgia is going to ask for my opinion on the matter, but it would be ridiculous to fire Mark Fox. This university has never shown one-tenth the interest (and financial investment) in basketball that it does for football, but Fox is one win away from locking up a fifth consecutive winning season.
With the exception of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia doesn't sign 5-star guys, but it has had a top-50 recruiting class in each of the last three years. That's rather impressive, given the lack of a basketball culture there and the surrounding big-name programs chasing those same players.
Yet, if the Dawgs miss the NCAA tournament, that will be the sixth time in the last seven years. And that type of futility doesn't fly at major-conference programs.
As far as known buyouts go, this is the cheapest one on the list, by far. From that "ease of termination" perspective alone, Fox is an obvious candidate for our top five.
Don't bury him just yet, though. Georgia won games against Florida and Tennessee in the past week to get back into the bubble conversation for the first time in a while. If the Bulldogs can win three of these last four games—at South Carolina, LSU, Texas A&M, at Tennessee—it'll be a photo finish on the tournament bubble, per usual.
4. Ernie Kent, Washington State
Contract Details: $1.4 million per year through 2022; fully guaranteed
Overall Record: 44-73; fourth season; zero NCAA tournament appearances
Cause for Disappointment
Washington State AD Bill Moos has publicly given Ernie Kent nothing but votes of confidence, repeatedly adding another year onto his contract after sub-.500 seasons.
But sooner or later, the man has to show some progress, right?
Per KenPom, the Cougars were the 190th-best team in the country the year before Kent took over. Since then, they have ranked 186th, 186th, 193rd and 182nd this year.
Things were looking good early this season. But since the 6-0 start that included neutral-court wins over Saint Mary's and San Diego State—arguably the program's two best wins since hiring Kent—Washington State has lost 16 of 20 games. It is 9-41 in Pac-12 play over the last three seasons and has won just two true road games dating back to February 2015.
It'd be one thing if Washington State had never experienced much success or played in the best conference in the country. However, the Cougars were an AP Top 10 team under Tony Bennett back in 2007 and 2008, and the Pac-12 is arguably the seventh-best league this year.
It should be enough proof that things aren't going anywhere to see Washington State tied for last place in this conference in Kent's fourth consecutive dreadful season at the helm. The fully guaranteed contract is an expensive buyout, but that's what this program deserves for continuing to roll over the contract of someone who isn't winning games.
3. Richard Pitino, Minnesota
Overall Record: 89-75; fifth season; one NCAA tournament appearance
Cause for Disappointment
For Richard Pitino, it's about much more than just the production on the court, but let's start there.
Prior to last season, everyone was screaming for Pitino's head. The Golden Gophers won the NIT in his first year, but they proceeded to win 18 and eight games in the subsequent seasons. He desperately needed last year's NCAA tournament appearance (as a No. 5 seed) to save his job. And now that they are back to being a sub-.500 team, the fanbase is back to wondering if he's the man for the job.
Of course, losing two starters in the middle of the campaign is a good excuse for Pitino. Minnesota was 13-3 when it had to start playing games without both Amir Coffey and Reggie Lynch. This team was already a bit short-handed after losing Eric Curry to an injury before the season began. As a result of all that roster turmoil, the Gophers are 1-12 in their last 13 games.
No one is blaming Pitino for the Coffey or Curry injuries, but the Lynch situation is another reason Pitino is in some hot water.
Why was this guy allowed to play while facing multiple sexual assault allegations—especially after he had already been suspended for a similar issue when he first transferred into the program two years ago?
This wasn't Pitino's first off-the-court controversy, either. Two seasons ago, three Minnesota players were suspended for posting a sexually explicit video on social media. And a few months later, it was revealed that Pitino spent roughly triple his allotted travel budget in his second season as the coach.
It'd be one thing if the guy was competing for national championships, but how much longer is Minnesota going to put up with the distractions for a coach who has had a sub-.500 Big Ten record in four of five seasons?
2. Kevin Stallings, Pittsburgh
Contract Details: Undisclosed; signed through 2022
Overall Record: 24-37; second season; zero NCAA tournament appearances
Cause for Disappointment
It's rare for a coach to land at or near the top of the hot seat rankings less than two years into his tenure.
It's also rare for a coach to take over a staple of the NCAA tournament and turn it into a laughingstock overnight.
Both apply to Kevin Stallings.
His inaugural season should have gone a lot better than it did. Pittsburgh lost its starting point guard (James Robinson) from a team that went 21-12 the previous year, but it had four seniors in its starting lineup. The one exception was a redshirt sophomore who was a three-point ace (Cameron Johnson). But after a respectable 11-2 start, the Panthers fell to pieces in ACC play, finishing with a sub-.500 overall record for the first time since 2000.
The four seniors graduated. Johnson, Justice Kithcart, Damon Wilson, Crisshawn Clark, Corey Manigault and Rozelle Nix all transferred out of the program. Stallings didn't sign a single top-145 recruit, according to 247Sports. And now the team is a disaster going nowhere fast.
Pittsburgh is one of five teams in the country that is still winless in conference play, and the other four—Chicago State, San Jose State, Incarnate Word and Northwestern State—have combined for one NCAA tournament appearance in the last decade.
Unless the Panthers somehow get red-hot after losing 15 consecutive games (13 by double digits), this will be their worst winning percentage in a season since 1976-77. If that's not grounds for giving a guy the boot after two years, what is?
The X-factor here is we have no idea what kind of buyout Pittsburgh would owe Stallings, since those contract details were never made public. At this point, though, the cost of keeping him almost has to be more than the cost of making him go away.
1. Kevin Ollie, UConn
Contract Details: $17.9 million from 2016-21
Overall Record: 125-74; sixth season; two NCAA tournament appearances; one national championship
Cause for Disappointment
The struggles for Kevin Stallings and Pittsburgh—though mostly self-inflicted and arguably avoidable—are at least understandable. Maybe last year's team should have been better, but it's hard to win without a true point guard. And this year's team never stood a chance of being competitive in the ACC. It's on Stallings to construct a better roster, but even John Wooden would have struggled with this group of guys.
But Connecticut and Kevin Ollie have no such excuse.
Sure, Alterique Gilbert suffered a season-ending injury in November for the second straight year, but the Huskies are still loaded with talent that they can't seem to utilize. Jalen Adams was a 5-star recruit in 2015 who has dreadful efficiency metrics. Terry Larrier was a top-50 recruit in 2014, but according to box plus/minus metrics, he's a negative on both ends of the floor. Mamadou Diarra was a 4-star guy last year, and he's barely even touching the floor anymore.
The bigger problem, though, is the guys who left and the guys who didn't come.
Vance Jackson, Juwan Durham and Steven Enoch all transferred out of the program this past offseason, and Connecticut ended up with a recruiting class ranked 84th in the nation. Per 247Sports, Connecticut extended offers to 33 of the top 100 recruits in the country but didn't end up with a single top-150 guy.
Once a school that almost always landed at least one top-50 player per year, Ollie has turned UConn into a program that 5-star guys are almost unwilling to even consider. And if you watch this team run its offense—or its sad excuse of one—it's no surprise.
The Huskies won four national championships from 1999 to 2014, but they're about to miss the tournament for the third time in four years, and they have their worst winning percentage since 1987. They need to get rid of Ollie and start over before it's too late.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.