Bruce Weber: Precedents and the College Coaching Carousel

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 08: Bruce Weber the head coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini watches the action during the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the first round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 8, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The college basketball coaching carousel has always had a few unwritten rules. They're not necessarily unbreakable, but when they're violated, it's sure to cause a bit of a stir. Just ask John Currie.

In general, if you're a big BCS school, you have three options when hiring a coach.

You can (1) poach a coach from another big school, (2) poach a coach from a mid-major, or (3) promote an in-house assistant or up-and-coming hotshot from a different school. If you've got a really strong basketball tradition, going to an NBA coaching staff is a fourth option.

When John Currie picked up Illinois' trash by hiring Weber, there was an understandable outcry from the fan base (myself included). Of course, this outside-the-box thinking does have its precedents.

In many instances, this could mean hiring from the NBA (hello, Iowa State and California) or I imagine it could even mean hiring from a successful team at the lower levels of college basketball. For lack of a better all-encompassing term, let's call them the JonFMorse Levels.

However, as far as I can tell, in the last decade there have only been two coaches who have been fired without a scandal by one BCS school (BCS as of this past season) and then gotten immediately picked up by another for the next season.

I'd like to think in both cases the chasm between the school that fired the coach and the school that hired him is much larger than the gap between Illinois and K-State, but the parallels are still worth examining.

The first and most obvious coach is Stan Heath, who took over a floundering Arkansas team in 2002.

That season was a rough one (9-19), but Heath was able to quickly turn things around with the help of some pretty solid recruiting, including Ronnie Brewer.

However, unrealistically high expectations at Arkansas, and two first-round NCAA exits to Bucknell and USC, earned Heath the boot in Fayeteville. The Razorbacks made the second round with Heath's recruits the next season, but they've been facing the consequences of bad karma ever since.

Meanwhile, South Florida (which got into the Big East for the same reason Baylor got into the Big 12) saw an opportunity to get a pretty decent coach, and while they've taken a couple steps backwards during Heath's five years, they took two gigantic steps forward this season.

Sure, one was a play-in game, but the Bulls got their first two Division I NCAA tourney wins in school history. I'd say Heath's done alright.

The other comparison is Tubby Smith, another good SEC coach who actually won a national championship before being dumped by Kentucky, a school that accepts nothing less than 30 wins a season from its basketball team.

Anyone who pays attention to college basketball (or the political climate in the state of Kentucky, for that matter) is aware there may have been some racial overtones to this firing, but TB doesn't like us talking about politics here.

Since he won a national title his first season with Rick Pitino's recruits, Tubby got to stick around for a while. But after nine years of not making it past the Elite 8 and two straight second-round exits, Tubby was shown the door.

Kentucky also suffered two years of bad karma in the form of Billy Gillispie before deciding to make a deal with the devil. Tubby, on the other hand, wasted no time finding a job at the University of Minnesota.

The Golden Gophers have at least been to a Final Four before (ironically losing to Kentucky in '97), but that also was the last time Minnesota won an NCAA tourney game.

Tubby has struggled to rise above average or break through in two trips to the Big Dance, but he at least has managed overall winning records (though never above .500 in conference) every season in the always tricky Big 10.

Some other coaches nearly meet the Bruce Weber to KSU qualifications, though most of them were fired not just for poor performance, but also for cheating. I'm looking at you, Mark Gottfried (Alabama to NC State), Jim Harrick (UCLA to Georgia), Eddie Sutton (going back further, but UK to Okie State), and of course, Huggy Bear.

*Essentially, the NCAA has created a culture where cheating or making poor/illegal personal decisions is more forgivable than doing everything right, but still losing basketball games. Great work again, guys!

Then there also were Mississippi's Andy Kennedy and USC's Kevin O'Neill, who only got their jobs because of a year of interim experience when their bosses left prematurely and their schools were too cool to hire them back.

For Kennedy, it was Huggins' thugness at Cincinnati, and for O'Neill, it was Lute Olson's health issues at Arizona.

Both have done OK, but not great.

Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention Gillispie, who must have been really desperate to walk into the impossible task at Texas Tech this season. Since John Wooden couldn't have coached that team to a winning record in the Big 12 this season, we really can't make a judgment there just yet.

Each situation is unique and brings its own different variables, but if there is a takeaway here, I think it's that Illinois could suffer the next few seasons and Weber certainly is capable of succeeding at Kansas State. Sometimes winning coaches can switch jobs and turn into losers, but it's clear the opposite can happen as well.

Based on these precedents and just my personal feelings, I don't think it's likely that Weber will take K-State beyond the level it reached with Frank Martin. Really, though, keeping it there should be challenging enough.

Note: Though I'm open to suggestions for new topics, this likely is my last post on Bruce Weber, at least until we hear a decision from Angel Rodriguez or perhaps get an exciting addition to the coaching staff.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank statsheet.com, sports-reference.com, and yes, ESPN for providing excellent statistical resources.

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