If losing to Seton Hall on senior night (with the Knights and Pirates nearly coming to blows), and not winning one for Hamady wasn't bad enough, getting thwacked by Pittsburgh at the Pete has to put Fred Hill on notice. Any lingering good will from beating the likes of Big East bottom feeders St. John's and DePaul (twice) is out the window. Still, even Hill's harshest critics have to admit that Rutgers and athletic director Tim Pernetti are stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one, having to choose between a series of unappealing options. Pernetti kept to his word of no in-season firings, but now that self imposed deadline is about to pass, and one very big decision is about to fall in Tim's lap.
I know LFBall and Shawn Layton (edit: Tara Sullivan too) seem to want to give Hill more time. I've argued over the past year that it's time to pull the plug. Bringing Hill back after last year was a mistake, and any promises of a better tomorrow ring hollow when you consider Greg Echenique's transfer and poor recent recruiting. For the past two decades, Rutgers basketball has been stuck in an endless cycle of giving a coach five years, before handing out a pink slip and starting over again from scratch. While there's appeal in stability, and no one wants to pay the $1.8 million buyout on Hill's contract, the alternative could very well be the program falling into an abyss that it will never be able to crawl out from.
This position isn't a knee jerk reaction. It's a realization that the Rutgers men's basketball team will not make the NCAA Tournament at any point in the near future. That is not by any means acceptable. C. Vivian Stringer pretty much came out and said that receiving a NIT bid constitutes abject failure for her squad, and considering the local talent base, there's no good reason why that same standard shouldn't apply to the men. Rutgers admitted as much in showing Gary Waters the door. Of course, the execution was bungled (to, uh, say the least), but the possibility of a poor hire shouldn't preclude a deserved firing.
I'm not coming at this like J.R. Inman. I genuinely do like Fred Hill Jr. as a person, and absolutely wished that he had been successful. Hill, simply put, is not equipped to be a head coach at the Big East level, and no amount of facilities upgrades will ever possibly change that. Maybe things could have been better, but they haven't, and certainly never will. It's because I am so personally fond of Hill that this decision is so painful, but at the very same time, it's clear as day. The worst possible mistake would be to continue on the current course for sentimentality's sake.
Pernetti and co. have effectively kept a very tight seal on leaks of their future plans for men's basketball. My fear all along has been that the school/athletic department's current fiscal situation, Hill having such extensive ties all over, and Pernetti's sincere desire to give him a chance to succeed and support sports other than football meant that there wouldn't be a coaching change barring utter catastrophe. After a bipolar year, no one left sitting in the stands of the RAC has a clue about what's going to happen.
With that all being said, I've now decided to continue my series of coaching candidate posts (see part I for a refresher), in the possibility that the axe does end up falling. I'd also recommend Adam Zagoria's subsequent January article about why Bobby Knight is not a realistic candidate, which is chock full of interesting bits like the following.
"I’ve heard Fran McCaffery, that’s what I heard," he said. "I’ve been told Fran Fraschilla would take it. I’ve been told Tim Welsh would take it." He also threw out Hofstra coach Tom Pecora’s name as a possibility.
Once again, please be advised that this list solely consists of opinion and speculation, and is not sourced in any way whatsoever. At the moment, I'm still more concerned with dismissing unrealistic candidates, and the brief handful of names below are only of that variety. I have quite a bit more written, which includes all the various scenarios and candidates being bandied about on message boards and such. Whether or not that's published in the near future depends on what exactly happens over the coming days and weeks.
II. The completely uninspiring
Hofstra coach Tom Pecora was a fairly hot commodity several years back, off the heels of a good 2006 campaign. Drawing comparisons to his mentor Jay Wright, Pecora, along with other local options like the former Iona coach Jeff Ruland, were getting a lot of buzz for the Seton Hall and St. John's jobs. As it turned out, the only thing Pecora had in common with Wright was that they both look rather fetching in a good suit. The bottom has fallen out in the meantime, and Pecora is closer to getting canned than getting a chance in the Big East.
Steve Lappas was 174-110 at Villanova, and arguably didn't entirely deserve to get canned for Wright. However, the Wildcat program did fall off into relative mediocrity, and Lappas was a major bust at UMass. He should stick to broadcasting at this point Still, self appointed know-it-all John Feinstein said that Lappas and Tim Pernetti are BEST FRIENDS FOREVER, so that warrants the briefest of mentions if only for the sake of completeness.
Houston coach Tom Penders was very close to getting the Rutgers job in 1997, being the second choice after Eddie Fogler. Man, it's so crazy to think that a decade ago Rutgers was in the mix for a coach from the University of Texas. Eventually Penders left in scandal, and was mediocre at GW before resurfacing at Houston. Has been decent with the Cougs, but he's 64 and this bridge has been burned to a crisp. Being as Penders is about to be fired, it's safe to put this one to bed.
I'm still at a loss to explain why some consider Jim Christian from TCU a candidate for any reason beyond his ties to Long Island. Christian followed Gary Waters and Stan Heath at Kent St. before jumping to TCU. However, the Horned Frogs aren't very good, and his once-shining star has stalled at the moment. Once I actually started looking at this year's standings, this one didn't make an awful lot of sense.
NJ native Bill Carmody was looking like a potential coach of the year candidate before Northwestern crashed back to Earth. He did a decent job at Princeton, but has been miserable at what admittedly is a very challenging situation.
As long as we're sifting through the senior circuit, there are a couple of other semi-interesting names that probably won't be pursued. Jim Larranaga and Bob McKillop are both New York natives, and have had a lot of success at George Mason and Davidson respectively. Both are probably too old and long-established at their present jobs to consider a move now though. At 61, Pernetti probably wouldn't consider Temple's Fran Dunphy either, despite his excellent resume. Bobby Cremins has shown surprising resiliency at Charleston; if only we had a time machine and could pull him away from Georgia Tech twenty years ago. Pete Gillen is probably too old as well, and his tenure at UVA didn't end on a high note.
Second update: Lenn Robbins floated a few names today in the Post who I deliberately didn't consider for various reasons.
No, a thousand times no, to Tommy Amaker from Harvard. He was only good at Seton Hall because Fred Hill got him elite players. Tom Moore from Quinnipiac is somewhat intriguing, but there is no way Rutgers will ever touch a candidate accused of recruiting violations while he was an assistant for Jim Calhoun at UConn. Even if the allegations are complete rubbish, this is a situation where RU can't even afford any hint of impropriety. Matt Doherty (SMU) is pretty much damaged goods at this point, and Kevin Willard (Iona) is too young. If wasn't trying to keep this in the realm of the realistic, I'd probably write a blurb about Bruce Pearl or Rick Pitino though. However, the next installment of this does have a section analyzing the chance of luring another major conference coach.