By any reasonable measure, Seton Hall had a disastrous basketball season. With the nation's top-rated freshman class, the Pirates were preseason favorites in the Big East and by early December had reached No. 7 in the country. Two weeks ago, however, the Hall concluded a 16-15 campaign with a first-round loss in the NIT, a result that might have had fourth-year coach Tommy Amaker fearing for his future. Yet last Thursday, Amaker stood behind a podium in Ann Arbor as the new coach at Michigan, where a five-year, $4.5 million contract awaited his signature.
Talk about March Madness. Last month 30 Division I schools bade farewell to their coaches, only three of whom left wholly by choice. While such turnover has some observers caterwauling about the perils facing today's sideline stompers, the reality is there has never been a better time for a coach to be unemployed. It's simple supply and demand: By creating so many job openings, athletic directors across the country have produced a booming seller's market for college coaches. That's not exactly smart, considering that athletic directors are the ones doing the buying.
Take Wisconsin A.D. Pat Richter. Though interim coach Brad Soderberg guided the Badgers to an 18-11 record and an NCAA tournament berth after Dick Bennett unexpectedly retired on Nov. 30, Richter fired Soderberg on March 19, wanting a bigger name. But when it was clear he couldn't get Utah's Rick Majerus or California's Ben Braun, Richter hired Bo Ryan, 53, who went 30-27 in two years at Wisconsin- Milwaukee. Instead of promoting the perfectly qualified Soderberg, Richter disrupted two programs and still ended up with a coach no one had heard of.
The paradox is that even as some athletic directors are setting ridiculously high standards—can someone explain why Ohio fired Larry Hunter after he went 19-11?—others are lowering the bar, especially concerning contract extensions. Braun, Steve Alford ( Iowa), Paul Hewitt ( Georgia Tech), Jeff Ruland (Iona) and Tim Welsh (Providence) each has been at his school for three years or less, and all but Alford lost in the first round of this year's NCAA tournament. Yet all five have either signed or agreed to lucrative extensions. "If you find someone who's a good fit, it's incumbent on you to try to keep him there," says Providence athletic director John Marinatto, who gave Welsh seven additional years after Rutgers came sniffing around about its vacancy. "We want stability, but that's hard to find in this marketplace."
Coaches, too, say they want stability, but what they really want is opportunity, of which there's plenty these days. It's unfortunate when capable men are shown the door, but there's no need for folks like Hunter and Soderberg to despair. As long as the coaching carousel stays in motion, there will be plenty of room on board for everyone.