The Rutgers men's basketball team is currently 6-20 on the season and in the midst of a 28 game conference losing streak. Head coach Eddie Jordan is in his third season at his alma mater, a legend from his playing days, and has two more years left on his contract. There has been much debate, on this site and from others, about whether Jordan deserves another season as head coach of what has become the worst power five program in the country. Today, Bob and Aaron discuss the potential thought process that the Rutgers administration, specifically athletic director Pat Hobbs, will go through in determining whether Eddie should stay or should go. We lay out specific reasons why he will be fired or retained. Bob takes on why Hobbs should fire Eddie, and Aaron presents reasons why Hobbs could ultimately keep Eddie.
Why Hobbs will Fire Eddie Jordan
There was more than ample evidence that made most people believe that University President Robert Barchi was not all that interested in athletics. The one that stood out most was, of course, the failure of Barchi to fire - or direct Tim Pernetti to fire - Mike Rice at the outset of the firestorm over Rice's behavior.
And it continued, as there seemed to be no urgency on his part to move Rutgers forward in competing in the Big Ten. And again, it was well documented and commented upon in many quarters, including at On the Banlks.
Then came Kyle Flood's email-gate and the arrests of a number of football players last year. The public outcry, the angst and negative publicity, seemed to be never ending.
But there also seemed to be a change in the offices at Old Queens. When all the football woes were added to the public gaffes by Julie Hermann, who Barchi hired and defended, including the mishandling of Eric LeGrand speaking at graduation in 2014, Barchi seemingly had no choice but to be more involved and to jump in the deep end of the athletics pool. It was time to swim with the big boys.
In a swift series of actions that covered barely a week, Barchi fired Flood and Hermann, and hired Patrick Hobbs. And not as an interim, but as the permanent AD. And where Barchi seemed content with minimizing what Hermann could say or do, Hobbs seemed to be in full control of athletics with a free hand to do whatever was necessary.
And that is why Eddie Jordan will be fired at the end of the season.
It was Pat Hobbs who searched for and hired Chris Ash. It was Pat Hobbs who announced via a well produced video the $100 million campaign for new facilities. And it will be Pat Hobbs who will look very objectively at all that has gone wrong in basketball over the last three years and say it is time for a significant change.
EJ: the man, the myth, the legend
There are those of you who look at Eddie Jordan and say, he's a Rutgers legend. Look at what he did as a player. How can you fire a "legend"? You do it if it's necessary. And it wouldn't be the first time.
Bob Wenzel was a two-time team captain under RU coaching legend, Bill Foster. He was part of the first post-season appearance in school history. He also was an assistant under Foster at Duke. He returned as head coach at Rutgers in 1988 and proceeded to lead the Knights to two NIT appearances and two NCAA appearances. And he continued as coach through 1997. But the upgrade to the Big East made success at RU a bit tougher. And after the 11-win season in '96-'97, Wenzel was fired. He finished 128-135 after nine years at the helm. And that included the last two years in the Big East where he went 9-18 and 11-16. Ahh, the good old days.
Then there's the argument about Eddie taking a job nobody seemed to want. Look at how he came in and stood up for his Alma Mater. Look at how he went to class to finish his degree while still coaching. Look at how emotional he got when his Knights topped Wisconsin last year. The man bleeds Scarlet.
So do I.
Yes, you can fire a loyal son and legendary player.
Bottom line: wins and losses
We'll start with....the record. We aren't done with the current season yet, but as of 2/17, with five games remaining (three at home), does anyone truly expect it to get better?
The first year in the chart was Mike Rice's last, and our last in the old Big East. Rutgers was in the AAC in 2013-14, and the last two are in the B1G. And this year, not one win was on the road.
One of the great baseball executives, Branch Rickey, used to chart hits by players. In an era decades before sabermetrics were even thought of, Rickey looked at the trends of where a player hit the ball. Trends. And that led him to this comment:
"Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late."
Does anybody care? Is anybody there?
Whether it's Eddie, the players, or the style of play, people simply aren't watching. They aren't going to games. Our first and only year in the AAC was not an attractive one. People saw the Big Ten on the horizon. And then that first B1G year: lots of excitement, lots of enthusiasm, and more or less lots of fans. Then 2015-16. Not a good look.
It's a good thing Eddie doesn't have an attendance clause in his contract.
Please, sir, may I have more?
In truth, donations to men's basketball have gone up over the last three years. That's a plus. But moving forward, will people continue to give? Can we compete on that field? Let's do a comparison between Rutgers and a peer. Not Ohio State or Michigan State. Let's look at Penn State men's basketball. In 2013-14, the most recent report available for the Nitts, men's hoops took in $381,652 in contributions. That same year, Rutgers men's basketball garnered $152,295 in gifts. That's less than half of what a team that went 6-12 in their conference made. Penn State Men's Basketball, for cryin' out loud. Will people see Jordan's continued presence as throwing good money after bad?
Perception is reality
A punchline. RU men's hoops has become a punchline. Blowout losses. No wins in conference for over a year. How do fans view it? Students? ( Do you see the student section at games? No one there) Donors? Prospective recruits and their coaches? With the questions still hanging over Eddie's head, how many quality recruits will commit to him? If it comes to the eye test, admittedly not a scientific or objective means to judge, it is not good.
Add to that the recent suspensions of Freeman and Sanders and, regardless of the validity or fairness, you have people flashing back to Flood and the football team's problems. And let me be clear in my position; it seems very clear here that there is nothing similar in terms of actual events. But two players within weeks of each other are suspended for violating team rules. Again, the eye test looks bad.
Pay me now or pay me later.
There are various clauses in Eddie Jordan's contract that call for him to be paid something whether he is coaching or not. If you keep him for next year and it doesn't work, you have paid full freight for his work and you're still starting over. After what could be another bad year. If you cut losses now, you will pay him, but less. You also give a new coach the clout of a full five year (likely) contract.
The Seton Hall Effect
The Seton Hall women's basketball program was moribund and literally flat-lining under long time coach Phyllis Mangina. The men's program was in disarray under the volatile and controversial Bobby Gonzalez. It was Pat Hobbs who pushed out both of them. Track & Field was one of the most successful programs at the Hall. It was eliminated under Hobbs. The man has shown he will not hesitate to do what is necessary.
The Crazy Factor
Who would be crazy enough take this job with everything that has happened? We'll end up with some "name" retread trying to salvage his career or some young coach with no real big time experience. Fair point, but I don't think that's how it plays out. Our Aaron Breitman put together a listing of 19 names. Should all of them be considered serious and would all of them consider the job? Of course not, but it doesn't mean that there aren't people who would be interested. This is still a Big Ten job, in a talent-rich area, in the (dare I say it) media capital of the world. And while we know money is an "object", it isn't so much an issue that the next coach couldn't be given an attractive package.
While we're getting ready for pitchers and catchers to report, and since I already quoted Branch Rickey, I'll give you another of his quotes that I feel belongs in this discussion.
"Never surrender opportunity for security."
Go back to my discussion of Barchi at the start of this post: we're all in now. The will is there; the way needs to, and must, follow. Pat Hobbs has the will. And he will show us the way.
Why Hobbs Will Keep Eddie Jordan
The Loyal Son Defense
I will not lie, this one drives me crazy. The idea that a former player/alum should be allowed more patience than any other coach is an emotional reaction, not a rational one. But let's say Hobbs, a newly affiliated Rutgers man, buys into this notion. Perhaps there are enough power players that implore Hobbs to look at Eddie as a sympathetic figure. The argument is that Eddie deserves more time, he inherited a difficult situation after the Mike Rice scandal, and he went to bat for the university when it needed him most. There is no denying that Eddie has handled himself with class and dignity, with the exception of last week's "I don't give a crap what the fans think" incident. He handled the graduation misunderstanding the right way, head on. He held himself accountable and served as a tremendous example for his players and really, everyone, in how he handled the situation, ultimately graduating last spring.
I don't envy Hobbs as it's never easy to oust a school legend, as Eddie is after starring at point guard on the greatest team in Rutgers history. He was a key member of the 1976 Final Four team and is the school's all-time leader in assists and steals. He played in the NBA for a long time and coached Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd, Gilbert Arenas, and Kobe Bryant. The problem, none of the above have anything to do with his performance as the head coach the past three seasons, nor the current state of ineptitude that the program is in. Hobbs appears to be an analytical thinker and not someone who makes decisions based on sentimentality. However, who knows what the sentiment is of others in the administration and what impact that will have on Hobbs decision.
In case Hobbs is looking for a recent example of a school firing a former legendary player, look no further than Penn. Jerome Allen was a two-time Ivy Player of the Year in the mid-nineties on some of the school's best teams ever. He took over the program in the midst of their third consecutive losing season after an 0-7 start during the 2009-2010 season. After a 19-30 record through one plus seasons, Allen led Penn to a 20 win season in 2011-2012. However, the next three seasons Penn went 26-61 (Eddie is currently 28-62 at Rutgers) and fired Allen last year. This is an Ivy league school, not even a power five conference school. Firing a school legend makes sense if it benefits the future of that program.
Injuries Ruined The Season
This would be Hobbs putting heavy stock into the fact of what could have been this season if three players hadn't missed significant time due to injury. For Hobbs, he came into the fold in December, so he didn't see the first two full seasons of the Jordan era. He didn't see firsthand losses to programs like Drexel, William & Mary, Fairleigh Dickinson, St. Peter's or St. Francis (PA) in Eddie's first two seasons. He could assess Eddie never had full roster all season and ignore the fact that part of the reason is an open scholarship was never filled. He could look at talented freshman Jonathan Laurent missing a chunk in the middle of the season due to a concussion as a reason for the embarrassing losses of mid-January. Hobbs is a basketball guy and understands that due to the lack of frontcourt depth, players were put in spots that were out of position. How much of a factor injuries have been is a hotly discussed topic around these parts. How much stock Hobbs puts into this factor is a key question.
Belief In Next Season
This is a big question for Hobbs to contemplate. If he believes injuries really were the main culprit for this disaster of a season, it's likely he would believe next season will be better. The million dollar question that no one knows is how much better? It's impossible to answer, as we have no idea who on the current roster will return. We do know there are three graduating seniors who were all 3-star recruits that are being replaced by three recruits that are rated with a combined zero stars. We also know former 3-star recruit and Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson will join the fold, and the early reviews on his potential have been sky high.
With the best two players on the roster currently suspended, it's fair to wonder whether Deshawn Freeman and Corey Sanders will return. Let's assume they both stay and if there any transfers, it's a player like Justin Goode, who unfortunately doesn't look like a player that is able to compete at this level. Also, if Hobbs buys into the loyal son argument as well as the injury argument, then he probably would think Eddie deserves a season with a full roster and discount the coaching red flags from the past three seasons. Maybe Eddie is the right coach to mold a young team that just needs time to develop. With more depth and players in their natural positions, positive results will come. How much improvement is the great unknown.
Wait Until There Is Progress With Facilities
Hobbs and the powers that be may believe to truly have an opportunity with the best coaching candidates possible, there needs to be significant progress on the facilities front first. There is definitely some validity to this, as a veteran coach may be leery in just relying on renderings, something that isn't a guarantee to become reality. Whenever shovels hit the ground on the new basketball practice facility, it will be a huge selling tool for Hobbs to use when recruiting a new coach. If this isn't happening until next year, Hobbs could play the loyalty card, keep Jordan one more season and bide time until the development is underway and he has something real to sell to coaching candidates. This is a bit of a great unknown, as we have no idea how far along funding is and what a realistic timeline is for construction to begin.
Money/Lack of Funds
If any of these reasons would actually prevent Hobbs from firing Eddie, I suspect this one is the most likely to be the actual reason. We have no idea how much money Hobbs has to work with in terms of affording a potential buyout of Eddie and his staff, followed by hiring a new coach and staff. We had the same concerns about football, and the powers that be, President Barchi, Greg Brown, and Hobbs, made the necessary moves. We know that improvements of facilities is Hobbs top priority. Perhaps he wants to wait until more money is raised, or until shovels are in the ground on a new basketball practice facility before searching for a new coach. It's possible Hobbs determines the $500K that Rutgers would save by firing Eddie after this season, is not enough to move now due to the potential costs on the backend with his replacement. This is the biggest unknown in Hobbs decision process and something we won't know until after the season.
Same Old Rutgers
No matter how anyone feels about Eddie Jordan as head coach, it's unfair to not recognize the Rutgers basketball program has suffered through a lack of support for decades. The major reason for Rutgers current state of futility with men's basketball is the lack of decision making over the years. The philosophy of waiting around for the problems to be fixed with more time and little change, have led to a series of disastrous events. Robert Barchi, Greg Brown, and Pat Hobbs made the decision to change that pattern with Hermann & Flood, altering and reshaping the course of the football program. With Ash, Hobbs added excitement, vision, and a new culture.
Basketball has always fallen second to football, as is the case with most schools. Perhaps Barchi, Brown and Hobbs want to put more focus into basketball, but want to wait on funding, facilities and getting the Olympic sports more support before dealing with the coaching situation. They might say, let's wait another year get the rest of the athletic department in a better position, and then we can take on a full reconstruction of the basketball program.
That mindset would fall in line with several previous administrations, and even for most of Barchi's tenure as President. As Bob addressed above, that all changed in late November. More change is needed, and new athletic director needs to signal that change by making basketball a priority. This program is enduring it's worst three year period since the dark days of the Craig Littlepage era in the mid-eighties. Standing still and hoping things turn around next year is the exact mindset that Rutgers has had for what feels like ever. The irony of Eddie Jordan's rant last week about Rutgers fans lack of patience is that the exact opposite is true. The RAC, while not a enjoyable place at the moment, is still drawing about half capacity. However, what will next season's attendance look like if key players leave and Eddie stays. Is the administration okay with all the lost revenue and morose fanbase that would be a product of indecision?
My hope is they aren't and that Hobbs changes the direction of the basketball program. If a concerted effort is made to show basketball is just as, or close to, as important as football, positive changes will occur. Maybe not right away, maybe not with the next coach. But if Hobbs makes a move with Eddie, he is saying to the fanbase that the previous mishandling of this program over decades is now over. Eddie Jordan was hired after the Mike Rice scandal and thought to be the perfect coach to heal the program. He did a great job cleaning up the program, holding his players accountable as student-athletes, and represented the university with dignity. But the product on the court has been abysmal. More healing is still needed on the court and with a loyal and proud fanbase that is suffering. It's up to Hobbs to prove this is not the same old Rutgers anymore.