EDITOR'S NOTE (3/30/09): Yes, I am aware of how ridiculous this post sounds now. But for what it's worth, at the time I wrote it, I believed it.
Count me among the many out there who are dumbfounded by Kentucky's firing of Billy Gillespie.
Maybe I was naive, but I thought NCAA programs had gotten past this sort of thing. I was wrong, once again. For yet another year, the old superpowers of College football and basketball unite to throw the coaching world into an endless carousel, all in the name of higher expectations.
I'm at a loss to understand why Kentucky thinks this is a good move. Or why they thought it was a good move to lose Tubby Smith in the first place (who, I might add, is now having great success in Minnesota). Now, who in their right mind is going to take a job where getting along with the administration is going to be equally important, and as difficult, as getting along with recruits?
Universities seem to get drunk on championships. This is one problem we've never had to deal with as Coug fans, and that's actually a good thing. The closest I've come to witnessing this phenomenon has to do with Nebraska football, where it happens that a few of my relatives bleed a slightly different shade of crimson blood.
Let me bring you up to date on what's happened with the Huskers, as it is a perfect example of a powerhouse desperate for success. Since the glory days of the 90s, football in Lincoln hasn't been the same. Realizing that Frank Solich was no longer going to cut it, the players and some fans of Nebraska lobbied for an up-and-coming defensive coordinator by the name of Bo Pelini to take over the program. The AD disagreed. Nebraska wanted the "sexy hire". So, they went with recently fired Raiders head coach Bill Callahan. After all, Callahan made it to the Super Bowl in his first NFL season, so he had to be awesome. Right?
Nope. Callahan brought a textbook-thick playbook and the West Coast offense to Nebraska, a school that thrived for years on utilizing corn-fed lineman to fuel a potent rushing attack. Long story short: it didn't work. And when Nebraska wanted to reclaim their identity, who did they turn to? A successful LSU defensive coordinator named Bo Pelini. The same guy they should've hired years earlier.
The best hiring of the young offseason won't be whoever Kentucky hires, or whoever Arizona hires, but who Alabama already hired. That would be VCU coach Anthony Grant, the very definition of bright young coach. Grant would've been the head coach at Florida had Billy Donovan bolted for the Magic. Even more shocking, Grant didn't leave VCU at the first opportunity - he waited for what he felt would be the right opening, despite numerous job openings on the East coast before that.
The point is this: I was mystified when Oregon State first hired Craig Robinson. Now I'm not. It's much better to find the right person to lead your program, not the biggest name. On rare occasions, you get both, which is exactly what happened when Jim Sterk lured Dick Bennett out of retirement.
Still, patience needs to be more of a requirement on both ends. Dan Monson bolted from Gonzaga in favor of Minnesota - only to be fired and watch his successor, Mark Few, rise to the top of the collegiate coaching ranks. Notre Dame has been the poster child of coaching indecisiveness, hiring Ty Willingham, firing Ty Willingham, and then giving a ten-year extension to Charlie Weis after one modestly successful season. It's all a mess - and if Kentucky doesn't figure out how to have a little patience, they will go the way of the Irish.
Tony had the perfect response on his radio show when a caller asked about the interest he's had from other schools. "You're just their flavor of the month," said the younger Bennett. That's proof he understands the carousel more than most of his colleagues. Want to make a million plus coaching college basketball? Want to jump ship for a big-name program? Just have one surprising season with a mid major or lower-tier power conference team. Teams were clamoring for Tony's services after the Sweet Sixteen last year. Funny how few teams will try to break down the door to claim Tony now, after a 17-16 NIT season.
Let me ask you this: is Tony any less qualified to lead a major program this year than he was after last year? Of course not. The difference is that programs like Indiana overvalued his abilities after his phenomenal first two seasons. Just like programs will undervalue Bennett after this season. It's all part of the ridiculousness of coaching in this day and age.
Tony understands it all, but I fear for the next victim. Will it be Mark Few leaving the job security and wins behind at Gonzaga for the intensified pressure of Arizona? Will it be John Calipari doing the same and ditching Memphis for Lexington? Who will be the next firing of a power-hungry University seeking to reclaim its lost glory?
For now, I like where WSU is at. Tony gets it. And that's a special thing.