The Pac-12 desperately needed a jolt of energy after a men’s basketball season that straddled the line between abject failure and benign irrelevance.
Instead it got … Mark Fox and Jamie Dixon?
I don’t mean to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong, but I’ve been monitoring the conference’s coaching carousel and I, um, have some questions.
Such as: Why? And, what?
This was another rough year for Pac-12 basketball. The league sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament, which was two more than we expected at various points in the season, but only Oregon advanced to the second weekend.
This weekend’s Final Four in Minneapolis will mark the 10th time in 11 years that the Pac-12 failed to produce a participant. If not for the Ducks’ improbable run to the Sweet 16, the conference would have been looking at back-to-back years without a team playing beyond the opening weekend.
At least the offseason held the promise of change. UCLA fired Steve Alford way back in December, announcing to the world that the league’s flagship basketball school was ready to shake things up.
Now, according to reports from The Los Angeles Times and other outlets, the Bruins are on the verge of hiring Dixon away from TCU.
This is nothing against Dixon, who is four wins shy of 400 for his career and has been to 12 NCAA Tournaments in 16 years. I’m sure he’s a fine coach. But if you were looking for a seismic move to reshape the Pac-12 landscape, this ain’t it.
Hiring John Calipari? That would have been a moonshot. The Bruins tried, but Calipari predictably said no and parlayed the interest into a new deal at Kentucky.
I don’t blame the Bruins for aiming high. But when you start with John Calipari and land on Jamie Dixon, fans will be understandably disappointed.
There’s an irony in UCLA turning to the guy who succeeded Ben Howland at Pittsburgh. Howland took the Bruins to three straight Final Fours from 2006-08, which is more than all other Pac-12 coaches combined since 2000.
The Bruins fired Howland in 2013 after winning the Pac-12 outright, in part because his style was deemed too boring for Westwood. Now, after six chaotic years with Alford, they’re turning to a former Howland protege 10 years removed from his last trip to the Sweet 16.
You hear lots of theories about why the Pac-12 is prone to bottoming out in men’s basketball. Fan apathy, lack of media exposure, scattershot recruiting — all of those things contribute in some way.
I think we’ve identified another factor, one that belongs near the top of the list.
The coaching in this league is not up to snuff.
When I say that, understand that big-time basketball coaches are judged by ridiculously high standards. You can look at the Pac-12 coaches individually, and there’s a case for each one being a decent fit at his respective school.
Collectively, their accomplishments don’t stack up with coaches in other leagues. Oregon’s Dana Altman, with 645 career victories and a Final Four to his credit, is the exception. Aside from Sean Miller, who has issues of his own, I’m not sure there’s anyone else I’d describe as a better-than-average Power 5 coach.
Larry Krystkowiak? Tad Boyle? Bobby Hurley? Mike Hopkins? Wayne Tinkle? All good coaches. Also, they have one Sweet 16 appearance between them.
Compare that to the Big 12, where six of the 10 coaches have been to the Final Four. Or the ACC, where three guys — Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim — have combined for 2,876 victories and nine national titles.
If the Pac-12 can’t hire coaches with those credentials, at least it could try something exciting. Instead, I feel like I'm watching a Howard Schultz campaign rally.
Cal had a chance to inject some life into its basketball program after firing Wyking Jones, who was 16-47 in two seasons. The Bears hired Fox, who won zero NCAA Tournament games in eight years at Georgia.
I don’t know much about Kyle Smith, Ernie Kent’s replacement at Washington State, which in this context is better than knowing too much. At least there are some unknowns that could make the Cougars intriguing.
Cal and UCLA, on the other hand, should know exactly what they’re getting.
They’re getting stale.