Coaches on the Hot Seat: Big East

As you can see below, there aren’t a ton of coaches under pressure in the Big East.  The conference has replaced the ACC as the conference with best pool of coaching in College Basketball.  There’s only two coaches here really feeling the heat (with one of them already succumbing to it), but there are a few more who could find themselves sweating it out in a year or two.

Three coaches at struggling programs were given passes because it was their first year at their new schools.  Expectations for Mike Rice (Rutgers) and Kevin Willard (Seton Hall) shouldn’t be incredibly high, so even incremental improvements should keep them safe for the foreseeable future.  However, DePaul’s Oliver Purnell could be under a bit more scrutiny.  The Blue Demons have been the doormat of the league the last few years and administration doled out the big bucks to lure him north from Clemson.  Mick Cronin (Cincinnati) could have easily found himself on the hot seat at this point, but should be safe for now after the Bearcats successful ’10-’11 season.

Other than the coaches mentioned above and the two we’ll cover in this article, the conference is packed with high-profile, and in many cases long-tenured, head coaches.  None of these guys appear to be in danger of losing their jobs anytime soon.

It’s chilly in here (translation: not going anywhere):

  • Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
  • Mike Bray, Notre Dame
  • Jim Beoheim, Syracuse
  • Rick Pitino, Louisville
  • Steve Lavin, St. John’s
  • Bob Huggins, West Virginia
  • John Thompson III, Georgetown
  • Jim Calhoun, Connecticut
  • Jay Wright, Villanova
  • Buzz Williams, Marquette
  • Mick Cronin, Cincinnati (saved himself this season)
  • Kevin Willard, Seton Hall (gets a pass because it was his first season)
  • Mike Rice Jr., Rutgers (gets a pass because it was his first season)
  • Oliver Purnell, DePaul (gets a pass because it was his first season)

The heat is on:

South Florida

To the common eye, Stan Heath would appear to be a coach who is in serious jeopardy of losing his job.  He’s taken the Bulls to one NIT appearance and zero NCAA Tournament appearances in his first four years on campus.  He got the South Florida job on the strength of his mediocre showing at Arkansas, which included two NCAA Tournament appearances (both first round exits) in five years.  His only Division I coaching experience before that was one season at Kent State in which he led the Golden Flashes to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.  As impressive as that one season was, a Cinderella run at a mid-major is not going to keep a coach employed nine years later.

As grim as that first paragraph makes this situation sound, Heath probably isn’t, nor should he be, in any immediate trouble.  In the brutal Big East, it’s extremely hard for schools that aren’t traditional basketball powers (like USF) to gain any traction.  Heath managed to coax a 9-9 conference record out of this team last season, which ended in an NIT berth.  He then lost his best player and the Big East’s leading scorer, G Dominique Jones, to the NBA.

Other than big man Augustus Gilchrist, there wasn’t much left and USF stumbled to 10-23 overall and 3-15 in the Big East.  With eleven Big East teams making the NCAA tournament, there weren’t many wins to be had for the few bottom feeders.  The poor basketball track record at USF and last year’s NIT appearance are probably enough to give Heath at least a few more years, assuming all of them aren’t quite as bad as this past one.  He’s safe for now, but if USF gets ambitious, he could quickly find himself sprucing up his resume and looking for new employment.

Heat level: He’s in the kitchen and the toaster is on.

Providence

Like Paul Hewitt at Georgia Tech in our ACC installment, Providence wasted no time ousting coach Keno Davis.  The Friars fired Davis on March 11th after his second consecutive 4-14 showing in Big East play.  His tenure started out well, finishing 10-8 in the Big East in his inaugural season in ’08-’09, but things quickly spiraled downwards.  Providence is not an easy place to recruit and Davis simply has not been getting the high-level talent that is necessary to succeed in the Big East.  He also didn’t have an extensive resume to back him up, having only one season at Drake, though it was a successful one, as his only previous Division I head coaching experience.

Davis’ job security grew even more tenuous in late January when top 2012 recruit Ricardo Ledo de-committed and re-opened his recruitment.   That was pretty much the straw that broke the camel’s back and Davis was let go immediately following the Friars’ loss in the Big East tournament.

This is a tricky situation.  Unlike South Florida, Providence is not a basketball program that is devoid of success and history.  They are not going to tolerate finishing in the basement of the Big East year after year.  However, they haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since the ’03-’04 season and getting recruits to campus has been tough sledding in recent years.  Administration would do well to hire another young, enthusiastic coach who can hopefully breathe some life into the program and attract young recruits.

Heat level: The Friars stopped, dropped and rolled to put out this fire.

Next up: Big Ten

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