(Photo Credit: USA Today)
‘Tis the season, ladies and gentlemen… The season of the Hot Seat.
We may be only 10 games into the season but the speculation about the first coach to get the axe has already begun. You know the drill. It’s never too early for local media to overreact. It’s never too early for fans to start dreaming of greener pastures. And, it’s never too early for boosters with unrealistic expectations to start back-channeling. It’s that time of year where the college basketball world starts frothing with panic and takes a small sample size of games to justify taking down a coach in hopes that a team can lure a hypothetical dream candidate to that school, even though they know in the back of their minds that it’s never going to happen. With a few intriguing replacement candidates circling ( cough Fred Hoiberg cough ), it’s only a matter of time before the speculation becomes the reality.
Luckily for us college basketball obsessives, there are gambling odds for this kind of thing. The BetDSI sportsbook has a prop bet for: Who will be the first power five head coach removed from his position?
Not surprisingly, four the top ten coaches with the highest odds to be fired reside in the Big Ten. So, snuggle up with a cup of cocoa and let’s break it down:
Richard Pitino (Minnesota): +250
Pitino seemingly has been on the hot seat his entire career. At the beginning of the year, his name was always the first to be brought up when talking about potential firings. It appeared that he was not just on the hot seat but rather standing in a house on fire. However, he has recently bought himself some breathing room with early victories over Washington and #24 Nebraska (8-2 record so far this season). But, if the Gophers start to fall out of the NCAA Tournament picture, speculation will most certainly ramp up again. It’s not that he is a bad coach, but his programs always seem to fall slightly short of expectations. His overall record at Minnesota is 98-80 (55.1%). He has had much less success in conference games, winning only 32 of 90 (34.8%). Moreover, the program has lacked consistency. One season he has 18 victories, then 8 wins the next season, then 24, followed by 15 wins. His coaching career has been a rollercoaster, vacillating between success and disappointment. Similarly, it still doesn’t seem like he has put his stamp on the program. There is no clear-cut identity. Are they pace-and-space or slow-and-physical? Does he prefer guard-dominated or post-dominated teams? What is his recruiting angle? No one really knows. This is in stark contrast to the Minnesota football program and PJ Fleck. While the football team is also in a rebuilding phase, they have a definitive brand and direction. If the Gophers start to fall out of the NCAA Tournament picture, don’t be surprised if the administration decides to do a Fleck-style rebrand on the basketball program. (or, might I suggest bringing on his father Rick Pitino on staff? At least that would be entertaining, right? One can hope 🙏🙏)
Mark Turgeon (Maryland): +300
Turgeon is the most interesting case study of all of these coaches. Let’s be honest, Turgeon is a great coach. He has a career 63.3% winning percentage and at Maryland has a 165-82 (66.8%) record. He even has a 55.6% winning percentage in conference games. Unlike Pitino, you know exactly what you’re getting with a Turgeon team. It’s going to be guard-oriented. It’s going to be aesthetically pleasing. And, it’s going to result in victories. Yet, the conundrum revolves around just how many victories. Despite the success, one could certainly argue that the program has not lived up to expectations, considering the tremendous home game atmospheres and because of the fact that the program lies in a recruiting hotbed. There is no doubt that Turgeon has had some great players. However, it is true that Turgeon has some degree failed to capitalize on the DMV’s tremendous local talent pool. This is a relatively minor issue. Talent is talent. But, when you reside in a community that is a basketball factory, one could expect Turgeon to dominate the region and continually pull local recruits. This has never really materialized. Moreover, the farthest any of his Maryland teams have gone is the Sweet 16. Maryland is not the same team they were during the Juan Dixon years but the administration still has the same expectations. The administration expects more consistency and more post-season success. Not to mention, the whole debacle with the football program has put a microscope on the university and Maryland is desperate to turn around its image. Maryland appears to have a pretty good team this year, but they have yet to record a signature victory (so far it’s been a relatively weak schedule except for their losses against Virginia and Purdue). If the team fails to live up to expectations once again, it might be time for both parties to move on and hit refresh.
Patrick Chambers (Penn State): +500
A record of 118-126 (48.4%) overall and 38-90 (29.7%) in conference play is not great. However, in all fairness, Penn State has improved greatly over its years under Chambers. It was a slow burn; yet, the team increased its win total each season during his first four years. Then, the team began to plateau until a breakout season last year where the team finished with 24 victories. The squad has taken a step back early this season, currently sitting at 5-4. Although, this was expected due to the loss of Tony Carr. Penn State is no basketball powerhouse. But, right now, they appear to be stuck in mediocrity. Chambers has grown the program. However, the growth has been incremental. The only question is: how long is the administration willing to wait for the rebuild? If the administration is willing to #TrustTheProcess, Chambers will get another year. If they become antsy and feel that Chambers has reached his peak with the team, they might look in another direction to continue the rebuild.
Tim Miles (Nebraska): +1000
Miles is yet another great coach stuck in a difficult situation. Over his career, Miles has always done a lot with a little. At Nebraska, Miles’s coaching success is relative. If you just look at his record of 105-99, you might say he has been mediocre at best. However, this record is not truly emblematic of his successful tenure. When he took over, Nebraska was in the doldrums of the college basketball world and now Miles has resurrected the program. Before Miles, the Cornhuskers had one of the worst college basketball programs in all of Division I. They had only reached the NCAA Tournament six times in their history and lost in the first round each time. During his second year at the helm in 2013-2014, Miles led Nebraska to its first NCAA Tournament since 1998. Then, the following year Nebraska was ranked in the preseason polls for the first time in 20 years. Unfortunately, the team did not perform well that season (or the next two seasons), but rebounded last year with 22 victories. Nebraska is back in the Top 25 this year, currently holding the 25th position in the coaches poll. It was slow and it was difficult. But, Miles has made the program relevant. That’s a success in itself. Nonetheless, many feel it is time for Nebraska to take the next step. Can Miles bring them back to the tournament? Or, has he taken the Cornhuskers as far as he can? At this point, if both sides were to part ways, each should come out of the other side looking good.
The Field: +150
If you were to take the field, Illinois’s Brad Underwood might be the name you are most likely to hear when it comes to the hot seat. But, if you’re banking on Underwood to get canned, you’re probably going to lose the bet. Underwood took over a difficult situation and has had to attempt to rebuild the program from the ground up. Despite early success at all of his previous stops, the beginning of his Illinois career has been quite ugly. He only went 14-17 in his first season. This year, it’s been an atrocious start and Illinois currently sits with a 3-7 record. However, the roster is completely different than it was last season with eight newcomers. Underwood is essentially starting over from the beginning with new players trying to fit into his unique scheme. The squad also has had a difficult schedule with games already against Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Iowa State, and Xavier. Illinois fans might be pulling their hair out but the program is not going to be rebuilt in a year. It’s going to take some time. Underwood is a talented coach with an exciting style of play. While Illinois is desperate to return to its former glory, the upside of being patient should protect Underwood for at least another season…oh and did I mention that he is signed through 2023 and has about $14 million left on his contract? So yeah, he’s probably not going anywhere.
The Big Ten is full of competitive teams and rabid fan bases with high expectations. That’s precisely why so many of the conference’s coaches are among those with the highest odds to get fired. No one knows who will be the first to fall. But, one thing is for sure – not everyone will survive.