Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Coaching Barometer Check: USF's Walters Tops Initial Hot Seat List

A lackluster record and the situation with Cody Doolin is keeping the seat pretty hot for USF coach Rex Walters

It's been a while since there was a coaching change in the WCC (the last being at Pepperdine when Marty Wilson replaced Tom Asbury, who retired mid-season). This a far cry from the days 5-6 years ago, when coaches like Brad Holland, Jessie Evans and Rodney Tention were being thrown through the WCC coaches meat grinder. In some ways, it's been nice to see some coaching consistency in the WCC. That being said, it's getting to that point when you feel as if some coaches are on the way out, as not a lot of teams other than St. Mary's have taken a step up as a consistent threat to Gonzaga's hold on the WCC.

So, a regular feature I'd like to have on here is a coaching barometer. While this is a regular rating on which coaches are on the hot seat, and which ones aren't, it also serves as a bit of a review for each WCC team as of late. The barometer will be separated into 4 sections or "temperatures":

1.) Piping Hot
2.) Pretty Hot
3.) Warm to Lukewarm
4.) Cool

Okay, so let's take a look at the first round of the "Coaching Barometer Check".

Piping Hot

Rex Walters, USF, 7-5 record this year, 83-85 career at USF

On paper, Walters should be safe. After all, this is USF, and after the Quintin Dailey incident that effectively gutted the program (it brought on school-imposed sanctions that the Dons haven't been able to recover from), the fact that they are competitive somewhat in the WCC should be enough for Walters to keep his job. But after the Mike Rice incident at Rutgers last year, coaching behavior is under the radar more than ever and Walters has stirred some controversy as of late with the sudden "retirement" of senior guard Cody Doolin.

The reasons for Doolin leaving was that he had a physical altercation with a teammate at practice. However, in a December article on College Insider.com by Greg Newell, this is what "contributed" to Doolin leaving the USF squad early in the season:

"The Doolin case is interesting and probably by the time this story gets published, facts will come out and it will NOT bode well for Rex Walters. Essentially, Cody was encouraged to fight one of his teammate's at practice, after the two players got into an altercation and coaches told the players to form a circle, as a boxing ring so that the two players could or would come to blows... with their blessing."

Now, Newell doesn't refer to where he got this information, as he mentions no source (not even an anonymous one) for this information. Nonetheless, whether this is true or not (until I see video ala "Mike Rice"-style, I'll call BS on Newell), issues with personnel have plagued Walters during his campaign at USF. According to the article, 22 scholarship players and seven assistant coaches have left the program in Walters' six seasons on "the Hill". One glaring transfer was center Perris Blackwell, who is earning starting minutes for the University of Washington. Cases like Doolin and Blackwell make fans wonder what is Walters doing to not only push out an egregious amount of players, but also quality talent that could be helping this USF program.

Remember, there was a lot of hoopla surrounding Walters' hire. He was chosen over candidates like alum Bill Cartwright, and many felt that his young demeanor and Big 12 and NBA ties would bode well for recruiting and increasing the visibility of a USF program that started to sink under Jessie Evans. But that hasn't happened, and while Walters has produced some offensively efficient teams (they have been in the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency the past three years), defensively they have been a train wreck (best adjusted defensive rating was in 2011 when they were 114th best in the nation. And, after achieving a 20-win season and second straight postseason berth in 2012, the Dons fell back to earth going 15-16 in 2013 and are projected to be under .500 again for the year by Ken Pomeroy (13-17 officially).

Walters may have been a splash hire initially, but Walters hasn't inspired the hope or promise that many USF fans expected when he was initially hired. Add that with all the personnel issues, and the possibility of a "player controversy" looming on the horizon, and it's safe to say Walters needs a big season to probably save his position. Anything less than .500 would probably earn his departure, and even if he is over .500, the Doolin situation may be enough for the USF Athletic Department to let him go.

Pretty Hot

Eric Reveno, Portland, 8-4 this year, 94-129 career at Portland

Depending on how you look at it, you can either say this may be a vast overreaction or a long time coming. When Reveno replaced Michael Holton in 2007, the Pilots had been a doormat in the WCC. After a couple of rough seasons, Reveno had back-to-back-to-back 19-plus win campaigns, including back to back 20-win seasons in 2010 and 2011. He has produced some good players in Luke Sikma and Nik Raivio, and in an extremely-pro NBA (Trailblazers) and College Football (Oregon) city, he has made the Pilots relevant for a period of time, which is a lot more than what some other Pilots coaches accomplished in their time.

And yet, the Pilots have been on the downturn as of late. The Pilots have only won 18 games the past two seasons, and Reveno enters the last year of his contract without an extension being hinted at any time soon. The Pilots have struggled the past two seasons offensively, as they have adjusted offensive ratings under 100 the past couple of years. Furthermore, the Pilots have traditionally played a more half-court, grind it out kind of ball, not surprising since Reveno cut his teeth under former Stanford and current Cal coach Mike Montgomery. With the excitement of Damion Lillard and the Blazers, the Pilots don't play the kind of ball that will attract the average basketball fan in Portland (though to be fair, Reveno has opened it up this year, as their tempo has increased to 71.0, which is a high for tempo in Reveno's career as coach).

Reveno has the Pilots at 8-4 this year, and Ken Pom projects them to go 17-13 for the rest of the season. It's tough to say whether a 17-13 record will be enough though this year. In many ways, that stretch from 2009-2011 seemed like the peak for Reveno's Pilots, and it is possible that the Portland Athletic Department might opt for a change just to breathe some fresh life into this program. Until I see that extension though, Reveno's seat is pretty warm, even with the solid 8-4 start.

Max Good, LMU, 8-4 record this year, 70-89 career record

To be honest, I never expected Good to last this long. After Bill Bayno, their original splash hire after he coached at UNLV and had some experience at the NBA level, stepped down after three games in his first year due to illness, I figured that Good was just a placeholder for a couple of years before they found a bigger hire. However, Good overachieved in his second year, helping the Lions go from 3-28 to to 18-16 in 2010. After an 11-win season in 2011, the Lions achieved their best campaign under Good, going 21-13 with two postseason wins and an upset of UCLA in the first game of the 2012 season.

However, last year, despite some high expectations, the Lions fell back to earth going 11-23. Good has produced some good talent in Drew Viney and current guard Anthony Ireland, but as a whole, the Lions have been inconsistent under Good, as they have failed to produce back-to-back winning seasons in his tenure. Good has pushed the tempo this year (73.1 adjusted tempo, 18th fastest in the nation), and it has resulted in not only a more exciting brand of basketball, but more wins as well (8-4 record this year). But, much like Reveno, Good is in the last year of his contract and no talk of an extension has been mentioned.

Good has brought some relevance to the Lions program again, and he is certainly a colorful character on and off the court. That being said, Ken Pom projects them to go 15-15 for the year, and I do not think a .500 record or slightly above would be enough for Good to merit an extension after this year.

Bill Grier, San Diego, 9-4 record this year, 93-115 career record

Grier couldn't have started his tenure at San Diego better. He not only led the Torreros to 22 wins, but he also led them to a WCC Tourney crown and first round upset of a Hasheem Thabeet-led UConn team in the NCAA Tournament. Since then though, it's been downhill for the former Gonzaga assistant, as he has failed to post a winning record since that successful debut season.

The Torreros have favored a slow it down pace and more defensive oriented approach under Grier, and while that had its merits the first season, it hasn't produced much offensive success in his time there. Under Grier, the Torreros have only posted an adjusted offensive rating in the 100's once (101.1 last year; though at 102 this year, he could make it a second straight year with ratings over the 100's), and they have never cracked the Top-150 in terms of offensive rating either, according to Ken Pom. Defensively, Grier's teams were effective early-on, as they ranked inside the top-100 in defensive rating his first two seasons, but after his third season, the best the Torreros have ranked in Adjusted Defense was 181st, which was also last year. Add that with four straight losing seasons, and it's easy to see why the seat on Grier's chair is pretty warm.

But, the biggest black eye against Grier probably had to come from the point shaving scandal that was leaked in 2012 concerning former star player Brandon Johnson (who was key in the Torreros' upset of UConn) and a former assistant coach. While Grier survived the incident and has been absolved of any wrongdoing, the combo of that incident and a lackluster record doesn't bode well for his future chances if he isn't able to turn it around this year. I think Grier has done some good things at USD, and this Athletic Department has showed extraordinary patience before (former coach Brad Holland seemed to be there forever). But, unless the Torreros are able to make a splash similar to what they did in Grier's debut season, I think his days may be numbered.

Warm to Lukewarm

Kerry Keating, Santa Clara, 7-6 this year, 107-108 career record

Probably more lukewarm after a 26-win season and CBI title which earned him an extension early this year. But considering this program forced out Dick Davey for his lack of recent NCAA Touranment appearances, I have to put Keating in here since he has made the NCAA Tournament ZERO times in his tenure there. And, considering his heralded "UCLA" ties, he hasn't made much of a dent as evidenced by his 107-108 record (Davey went 251-190 in his tenure at SCU).

I think Keating has done some things well at Santa Clara: he has brought in some much better talent, and though his squads have struggled to find consistent success on a year-by-year basis, the Broncos have remained competitive overall in his tenure. He does have two 20-plus wins seasons under his belt, and the winning of the CBI certainly raised his profile a lot and proved to be a nice sending-out for four-year star Kevin Foster, who was coming off a miserable 2011-2012 campaign that was riddled with on and off-the-court problems. That being said, while Keating is probably safe this year regardless of what happens (Ken Pom projects a 14-17 record), it'll be interesting to see if Keating makes good on the recent extension he just signed and finally gets the Broncos a long-awaited NCAA Tournament berth.

Marty Wilson, Pepperdine, 7-5 this year, 32-52 career record

Some are more bullish on Wilson's future, citing that he was a key part of former coach Tom Asbury's staff, and that he has worn out his welcome after being around for so long with the Waves program (Newell was the main dissenter). I just don't see it though. Pepperdine has traditionally stayed with their coaches very long, and while he hasn't produced a lot of wins yet, Wilson has the charisma to earn at least a couple of more years there. Remember, this was the same team that stayed with the incompetent Paul Westphal (great as a player, incompetent as a coach) for five years, so I think Wilson will at least earn himself that long a tenure.

Right now, Wilson has the Waves playing their best basketball in his time there. They are 7-5 and have a couple of decent wins over Denver and UC Irvine. They are also shooting very well, as their 55 percent effective field goal percentage is 30th best in the country. But, there are issues defensively, as they rate 273rd in the country in Adjusted Defense, and they have rated 168th and 229th in 2013 and 2012, respectively in that category as well. Defense was always an issue under former coach Asbury and that seems to be the case again with Wilson. However, while the Waves are due for huge regression (Pomeroy rates them last in the WCC despite their plus-.500 record), I think Wilson has another year to prove himself before he is in danger of getting fired.


Ron Verlin, Pacific, 9-2 this year, 9-2 career record

First year head coach. 9-2 start. First year in the WCC. Rated 108th in Ken Pom's ratings. Wins over Nevada, Fresno State and Utah State. Yeah, Verlin's not going anywhere any time soon.

Dave Rose, BYU, 8-5 this year, 217-71 career record

The Cougars, missed the NCAA's for only the second time in Rose's tenure (the first time being his first year) last year, but are still playing an exciting brand of basketball, as they rank tops in the nation in Adjusted Tempo at 78.6 (not surprising considering Rose played at Houston during their Phi Slamma Jamma days). While the move to the WCC for the Cougars hasn't resulted in them dethroning the top-two favorites St. Mary's or Gonzaga, they have made the conference infinitely better and has made the the WCC a regular threat in being a three-bid league.

As for his job security? He has never won less than 20 games in his career, and he has a Sweet 16 appearance on his resume along with six NCAA Tournament Appearances. And he dismissed (and later re-instated though after the season) a key player (Brandon Davies) during their "Jimmer-Hysteria" season for breaking the BYU honor code (though that was met with some controversy). Short of him having a very public affair or committing a major felony, I think Rose is set at BYU for a long, long time.

Randy Bennett, St. Mary's, 9-2 this year, 272-126 career record
Mark Few, Gonzaga, 10-2 this year, 384-95 career record

As always, the question is with these two is IF they are going to leave for a bigger school or more high profile job. When that is an annual assumption, I assume you've earned the status of having "no heat" on the coaches' hot seat.

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