Carousels have been around for a long time—in fact, much longer than I realized. The carousel, or merry-go-round as it is called on the playground, dates back to about 500 A.D. But that’s not the carousel we’re considering today. Rather, it’s the coaching carousel in college athletics.
Every school faces challenges when coaching positions open. For some, like former coach Dean Smith at North Carolina, the question is how to replace a legend.
Whenever a coaching position opens, especially in prominent programs, the coaching dominoes fall faster than raindrops during a Kansas thunderstorm. Consider what transpired when longtime Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams announced his retirement about a month after the basketball season.
Maryland, unlike some schools, could be relatively selective in hiring a quality coach. When the price is right and the position offers a great opportunity for success, there will not be an absence of suitors.
Maryland tried to woo Arizona coach Sean Miller, but he chose to stay in Arizona and received a contract extension. Maryland expressed interest in a couple of others coaches, but finally settled on Mark Turgeon, formerly head coach at Wichita State, and more recently, Texas A&M.
No doubt Turgeon wasn’t going to leave for Podunk U. with a good team returning at A&M.
Once Turgeon left A&M, the Aggies had to scramble to find a suitable replacement. They picked Bill Kennedy, former head coach at Murray State and a one-time Aggie assistant.
That move forced a change at Murray State, and they responded by promoting Steve Prohm to the head coaching job. By naming an assistant to the head job, the head coaching carousel came to a halt, although the ripple effect continued as each head coach hired the requisite number of assistant coaches to join their program.
One interesting phenomenon during a coaching search is the number of coaches who get a raise at their current institution just for staying put.
It would be like me telling Free Press editor Don Ratzlaff that another newspaper is interested in securing my sportswriting abilities, but if he gives me a raise or extends my contract, I’ll continue to write for the Free Press. It smacks of legalized blackmail. The difference is that in my scenario, some might say I should be glad Don doesn’t ask me to pay him for writing Sideline Slants, but I digress.
Should coaches be more loyal to their schools and student-athletes when schools have them under long-term contracts? Don’t be naïve enough to think that most basketball players go to KU or K-State because of their biology program.
Why should a coach worry about loyalty when he or she knows full well that when the losses outnumber the wins, the school will drop him or her like a rock? When a coach jumps ship, should new recruits be allowed to change plans and go to another school?
Make no mistake that the economics of college sports and the urge to climb the career ladder will keep the carousel spinning in ways that leave fans of a team feeling betrayed by a coach’s departure, even as they fail to recall having called for his firing the last time a 20-year-old’s three-pointer clanked off the rim at the buzzer.
Fans of teams lower on the food chain will continue to feel the ripple effect and fear that too successful a season will draw a bull’s eye on their coach. Even schools as high on the chain as KU are not exempt, when an alma mater comes calling.
And that is one of many reasons we continue to find sports so irresistible. There is something addictive about feeling good and suspecting that you’re about to feel bad, just so you can do it all again.