Reverse hot seat -- why these embattled coaches should stay

ByMyron Medcalf and Jeff Borzello ESPN logo
Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Most "hot seat" columns at this point in the college basketball season are fairly one-sided. Who might get fired, why he's in this position -- and then move on to the next guy. But what about the other side of the debate? The reasons to keep a particular coach for another season are rarely brought up when discussing the coaches at risk during the spring carousel.

Well, we'll take a stab at it, giving you both sides of the argument: the case for keeping a coach and the case for replacing him. And we'll leave it up to you from there.

What his detractors would say: Not many high-major head coaches get eight seasons at the same school without making the NCAA tournament -- and Penn State isn't going to come close this season. The Nittany Lions enter Tuesday with just one Big Ten victory and are going to finish at the bottom of the standings. They've never finished above .500 in the conference during Chambers' tenure.

Why his firing would be unjust: There were clear signs of progress last season, beating Ohio State three times to earn a spot on the NCAA tournament bubble and then winning the NIT. Chambers signed a contract extension last spring to keep him until 2022; why even give that in the first place if one down season after losing Tony Carr was going to seal his fate? This isn't an easy job; the Nittany Lions have been to the NCAA tournament four times since 1965.

What his detractors would say: Christian has one .500-plus season at Boston College (2017-18). This season's team has won just two games since Dec. 22. Athletic director Martin Jarmond, who arrived in 2017 and did not hire Christian, might be interested in putting his stamp on the program by recruiting his preferred candidate.

Why his firing would be unjust: Coaches are charged with developing elite talent, and last year, Jerome Robinson was the school's highest draft pick since 1982. Christian is navigating through a tough league with multiple national title contenders, too. Not easy to do. And because of injuries, only three players on this season's roster have participated in all 22 games.

What his detractors would say: It has been a truly dreadful season for the Green Wave. They haven't won a conference game yet, and lost nonconference games to the likes of South Alabama, Southeastern Louisiana, Towson and Alabama A&M. They've won eight American Athletic Conference games total in three seasons. Dunleavy will be 65 in March; maybe he's just not cut out for college.

Why his firing would be unjust: What did you expect when he was hired? Dunleavy had never coached a minute of college basketball before the Green Wave made the call. And he took over a program that went 3-15 in the league the season before. There were some positive signs last season, and he has had some success on the recruiting trail since taking over.

What his detractors would say: It's pretty simple: The Broncos haven't won a game in the Mid-American Conference this season. They're 0-10 heading into Tuesday. Although Western Michigan has been competitive for most of Hawkins' tenure, the Broncos have gone to the NCAA tournament only twice in 16 seasons and have finished .500 or below in MAC play in three of the past four seasons.

Why his firing would be unjust: Hawkins and the Broncos won the West Division title two seasons ago and have won at least 20 games in seven of his 16 seasons at the helm. This season's 0-10 league start is terrible, yes, but this will be just the fourth season since Hawkins took over that Western Michigan will finish below .500 in league play. What's the rush?

What his detractors would say: It's simple, really. Jones just hasn't won enough games. Rather than conduct an exhaustive national search, the school handed him the job after Cuonzo Martin left for Missouri two years ago. But this outcome is even worse than anticipated for a team that has lost to Seattle, UC-Riverside, Chaminade and Central Arkansas under Jones.

Why his firing would be unjust: Money is a problem for Cal, which invested nearly $500 million in a football stadium renovation that will tie the school up in massive debt payments for decades. According to Bloomberg, the school's debt payments will rise to $37 million per year beginning in 2039. Jones makes $1 million per season, a below-average sum for a Power 5 coach. Cal might not have the cash to pay a replacement for Jones.

What his detractors would say: A disastrous third season for Joseph, who won 20 games after replacing Mike Lonergan as an interim head coach in 2016, has turned into a free fall. George Washington, which is 7-16 overall, has one of the worst offenses in America, and it entered the week ranked 251st in the NCAA Evaluation Tool.

Why his firing would be unjust: He helped this program salvage its reputation after Lonergan was dismissed for his alleged verbal abuse of players. That has to count for something. And he's only 33. When Mike Krzyzewski was 33, he finished 10-17 in his second season at Duke and then 11-17 a year later. Maybe Joseph just needs more time.

What his detractors would say: There were the Sweet 16 appearances in 2016 and 2018 ... and nothing else. The Aggies have missed the NCAA tournament in five of Kennedy's seven seasons in College Station, and they're certainly not getting there this season. A&M is 2-8 in the league and 9-13 overall entering Tuesday, with a 15-point home loss to Texas Southern back in December. There's too much talent in the state of Texas and on the current roster to be toward the bottom of the SEC.

Why his firing would be unjust: We just said it. The guy has been to two of the past three Sweet 16s. The Aggies are in the midst of a down season after losing three starters to the NBA draft and another to a season-ending injury. It's hard to fault Kennedy for that. Throw in the fact A&M is bringing in a top-20 recruiting class next season while also having just one senior on this season's roster, and the Aggies should be poised for a turnaround.

What his detractors would say: We're not asking him to be Tony Bennett, but come on, at least be competitive in a bad Pac-12. The Cougars haven't finished with more than seven conference wins since Kent took over and haven't come close to finishing .500 overall. He has won 20 total conference games in four-plus seasons. The former athletic director parted ways with Ken Bone after five seasons, and Bone had a couple of competitive seasons in there.

Why his firing would be unjust: Did you not see this past weekend? Washington State went on the road and swept the Arizona schools. The Cougars have arguably the best player in the league in Robert Franks. Kent is signed through 2022, and really, who is going to come to Pullman and have consistent success right off the bat? It's not an easy job.

What his detractors would say: The Sycamores are sitting in a tie for last place in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, their fourth consecutive season in the bottom half of the league and the fourth in a row below .500 in conference play. They haven't finished with an overall winning record since the 2013-14 season, and Lansing saw his automatic contract rollover canceled back in 2017.

Why his firing would be unjust: Before the past four seasons, he was one of the better coaches in the Missouri Valley. The Sycamores went to the NCAA tournament in his first season in charge and finished .500 or better in the league in four of his first five seasons. It's important to keep in mind that during Lansing's first few years, there was a Creighton-Wichita State hegemony atop the league -- that factors into his overall record -- but both schools have moved on.

What his detractors would say: He won nine, nine and 11 games in three previous seasons, without a hint of NCAA tournament consideration. And that problem is secondary to the testimony in federal court by Brian Bowen Sr., who alleged that assistant Shane Heirman and a grassroots program formerly run by fellow assistant Tim Anderson both paid him thousands of dollars for the services of his son, Brian Bowen Jr. Leitao's losses and his hiring decisions could help end his time at DePaul.

Why his firing would be unjust: C'mon, man. Leitao's squad is 13-9 entering Tuesday and 5-6 in the Big East after a two-game win streak. Plus, he has signed a top-25 recruiting class anchored by Romeo Weems and Markese Jacobs. This could be the class that changes things for DePaul.

What his detractors would say: After an NCAA tournament at Tulsa, more was expected from Manning. Instead, the Demon Deacons have sandwiched four awful seasons around a First Four appearance in 2017. They're 2-8 in the ACC this season and lost to the likes of Houston Baptist and Gardner-Webb at home in the nonconference season. They're sliding further and further behind the rest of the ACC.

Why his firing would be unjust: The talent is there. Manning is recruiting quality players to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, led by five-star Jaylen Hoard in 2018 and two other ESPN 100 players in the past three classes. Also, Manning signed an extensionin 2017 that keeps him at the school through 2025 -- and it's fully guaranteed. It's going to take a lot of money to make a move and still hire a high-level replacement.

What his detractors would say: Do you see what's going on in Reno? UNLV has taken a back seat to its in-state rival. Nevada has been getting better high school players and better transfers -- and is ranked in the top 10 nationally. Menzies has failed to even get the Runnin' Rebels in a conference title race in his first three seasons.

Why his firing would be unjust: One, it has been just short of three seasons. Two, it hasn't been that bad in Vegas. The Runnin' Rebels are above .500 in the Mountain West this season and have improved tremendously since an 11-21 (4-14 in the MWC) debut season for Menzies. They won 20 games last season, for crying out loud. It's a different Mountain West than it was five to 10 years ago; it's a one-team league for now, but that team won't always be Nevada.

What his detractors would say: He has gone from the fun coach who used to tweet at halftime to the coach whose team has experienced high turnover and won more than 20 games only once. Nebraska, which has reached the NCAA tournament only once under Miles, has lost seven in a row. Plus, Nebraska can shred the final year of his deal by paying him a $2.5 million buyout this offseason. The school would owe Miles nearly $4 million total if it made the move after next season.

Why his firing would be unjust: Nebraska has opened a great arena and practice facility within the past five years. The school has invested millions to rebrand itself as a viable basketball program. That's not easy to do for a program that's never won an NCAA tournament game. Firing Miles could erase the momentum the program has built during his time in Lincoln.

What his detractors would say: Well, this one is easy. Three of Miller's former assistants (Mark Phelps, Book Richardson and Joe Pasternack) have been connected to significant violations that could lead to hefty penalties for the program. That, coupled with the fact that Miller has never reached the Final Four despite securing multiple elite recruiting classes, could become justification for his dismissal at season's end.

Why his firing would be unjust: He's still here. After an ESPN report last season tied him to an alleged pay-for-play scheme involving Deandre Ayton, the school and its key supporters backed him. Those backers seem content to dismiss anyone but Miller, who has ESPN's No. 1 recruiting class for 2019 in spite of the issues surrounding the program. He has also won 76 percent of his games as head coach in Tucson. Why would the school fire him now when it has fought so hard to keep him?

What his detractors would say: Monson hasn't led Long Beach State to a Big West tournament championship since 2012 or a conference regular-season title since 2013. He took a $75,000 pay cut in the offseason after facing scrutiny for his unique contract, which last season allowed him to rack up more than $300,000 from nonconference buy games. Monson's team is 1-6 in its past seven games after back-to-back losing seasons under the 57-year-old leader.

Why his firing would be unjust: Monson, who has been with Long Beach State since the 2007-08 season, when he won just six games, is the face of that program. His team has been able to schedule nonconference games against America's best teams based on his ties within the business. And before last season, he hadn't finished lower than fourth in league play since his first season on campus.

What his detractors would say: John Hardt, Richmond's athletic director, wouldn't address Mooney's status last week. "This is not the time," he told reporters. "The focus right now is on the team and competing on the court." That's not a favorable response for a coach who hasn't reached the NCAA tournament since 2011's Sweet 16 run and has a 4-7 record in the Atlantic 10 this season.

Why his firing would be unjust: Few coaches can match his consistency. Before last season's tumultuous 12-20 campaign, Mooney hadn't had a losing season since 2007, when he finished 8-22 in the second year of his tenure. His top three scorers this season (Grant Golden, Jacob Gilyard and Nathan Cayo) are all sophomores, too. He can build on this.

What his detractors would say: The Red Storm have arguably the most talented roster in the Big East this season -- and they're below .500 in the league, fighting for their NCAA tournament lives. They've yet to finish above .500 in the Big East since Mullin took over, and haven't played in a postseason tournament yet. There have been questions about Mullin's commitment level, and on the recruiting front, they haven't been able to keep New York/New Jersey kids home for college.

Why his firing would be unjust: Despite Saturday's loss to Providence, this team is still on track to make the NCAA tournament if the season ended today. Even if Shamorie Ponds leaves for the NBA, the Red Storm will still bring back most of the rotation, and they have three talented transfers sitting out. Athletic director Mike Cragg took over in September; his first order of business is going to be forcing out the school's all-time greatest player? Stop.

What his detractors would say: Things are going progressively downhill at Rose Hill Gym. After winning 17 games overall and eight Atlantic 10 games in his first season, Neubauer now has the Rams with a 1-9 record in the A-10 and poised for a second consecutive season at the bottom of the standings. And even though basketball in New York City is down compared with what it used to be, the presence of just two players on the roster from New York is surprising.

Why his firing would be unjust: Did you see how it was when Neubauer took over in the Bronx? Tom Pecora had won 13 A-10 games total in five seasons, never winning more than 10 overall in a single season. Neubauer has shown he can win games at Fordham, even if hasn't happened the past two seasons.

What his detractors would say: Saturday's 20-point road loss to Miami (Ohio), Ohio's chief rival, punctuated a 3-7 start in MAC play for Phillips, who hasn't reached the NCAA tournament with the Bobcats. The Bobcats have had two losing seasons in conference play since 2010 -- both under Phillips, who could endure No. 3 this season and lose his job.

Why his firing would be unjust: He won 43 games from 2015 to 2017, a promising start. He has proved he can win big at Ohio. And two of his best players, Teyvion Kirk and Jason Carter, are underclassmen. The Bobcats are a top-100 defensive team, too. It's not all bad at Ohio.

What his detractors would say: His first full season as head coach in 2012-13 is the only winning season on his résumé. It was also the only season Air Force finished higher than ninth in the Mountain West during his tenure. This could be Pilipovich's sixth consecutive losing season.

Why his firing would be unjust: It's a difficult, complicated job. And Pilipovich, who has been with Air Force as a head coach or assistant for more than a decade, understands that. He has a growing young point guard in A.J. Walker and a modest 5-6 record in league play. That's better than par for the course in a program with four NCAA tournament appearances in its history.

What his detractors would say: He has made one trip to the NCAA tournament since he was hired in 2014. That he has even failed to duplicate former coach Tubby Smith's modest success in Minneapolis is a problem for a guy who has had better resources, including an elite practice facility, but no home run recruits. Multiple assistants have left the program. And the stain of Reggie Lynch, who was dismissed last year after facing multiple sexual assault allegations, remains.

Why his firing would be unjust: This isn't Kentucky or Duke in terms of on-court expectations -- Pitino's team might reach the NCAA tournament if it can finish strong. And if that happens, it will be difficult for athletic director Mark Coyle to justify firing Pitino, who has actually become a more likable and approachable figure in the Twin Cities this season. His handling of the recent death of guard Dupree McBrayer's mother gave him an opportunity to display his softer side.

What his detractors would say: The Owls are headed for another finish in the bottom half of the Atlantic Sun, on Saturday getting just their third win over a Division I team this season. Since arriving in 2015, Skinner hasn't finished above .500 in the league and hasn't won more than 14 games in a season. This is a job you have to grind on the recruiting trail; is Skinner still up for that?

Why his firing would be unjust: The former Boston College and Rhode Island coach has been at the helm for four seasons -- and Skinner has actually been a slight improvement on his predecessors. Jimmy Lallathin went 4-10 in the league in his lone season, and Lewis Preston won five Atlantic Sun games total in three seasons. Before this season, Skinner was 20-22 in league play. It's Kennesaw State; you're really going to fire him over that?