On Mizzou basketball … what happened, and what comes next. No predictions here. Just a hope and a wish that Mizzou gets this right.
1) After a Friday meeting with athletics director Desiree Reed-Francois, Coach Martin walked away as ex-coach Martin. In reaction we were treated to another round of tributes, exalting the personal qualities of the man, and commending his sincere desire to shape his players and enhance them as people. This media virtue signaling was predictable, but here’s what I don’t understand: isn’t it possible for virtuous coaches to win a lot of college basketball games? Winning on the court, and winning the game of life … these things aren’t mutually exclusive.
2) A man of character can have a successful win/loss record, grab conference titles, and guise his team on runs in the NCAA Tournament. A good man can be a good coach and build a strong program without trashing his principles. It happens all of the time. And in the brave new world – featuring transfer portals and NIL money – getting access to good players has never been easier. A coach with ethics can play the hustle game because it’s fair game and within the rules. You don’t have to “cheat” to get it done. Enticements can now be offered out in the open. You don’t have to be dirty, but if your fingernails get a little dinged up, no one will sound the police sirens. So, I repeat: this isn’t an either/or choice. You don’t have to be a charlatan to, say, advance to the Elite Eight. Just play the new system to make it work. Good grief. Cuonzo Martin was an old-school basketball coach, and that was worthy of respect. But an old-school coach who can’t or won’t adjust to college basketball’s dramatic transformation will get left behind.
3) Missouri moved on from Martin for obvious reasons: 28 losses in his last 43 games. Having a .368 winning percentage in SEC games over the last four seasons, and that includes play in the conference tournament. Roster chaos. A deterioration in recruiting. Poor results in the transfer portal. A lack of interest in cultivating NIL as a necessary recruiting tool. A boring, disjointed offense. A collapse of Martin’s strength – defense. An average losing margin of 14.7 points per game this season. Embarrassingly small crowds for home games. Big-donor disgust. There’s more, but we can stop there.
4) Martin took the Tigers to two NCAA Tournaments in five seasons, which is fine. But it hardly represents some sort of major achievement. As I write this on Sunday it’s before the unveiling of this year’s NCAA Tournament field. But in Martin’s first four seasons – which featured the two trips to March Madness – 129 different programs made it to the NCAA Tournament. And 70 of the 129 won at least one game including Murray State, Liberty, Abilene Christian, Belmont, Marshall, UCF, North Dakota St., North Texas, Radford, Fairleig Dickinson, UMBC,Cal-Irvine and Norfolk State.
5) Martin went 0-2 in the NCAAs as Missouri’s coach. The down-and-out Missouri program hasn’t won in the NCAA Tournament since 2010. Beginning with the 2011 tourney and through last season, 132 programs have at least one win in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers are the only Power 6 program in the nation to go to a minimum of five NCAA Tournaments between 2011-2021 and not win a game.
6) What about the next coach? Some coaches are better than others. The ideal coach is a great recruiter, an elite tactician, and a prolific seller of tickers. Can Mizzou get a guy like that? I’ll be ridiculously polite here and repeat something that I heard from our Japanese hosts during the Nagano Olympic games when I made a request that couldn’t be fulfilled: “This would be difficult.” In other words: forget about it, bubba.
7) So if we had to prioritize one quality over other considerations, it’s an easy call: get a maniacal recruiter if possible. And make sure the money is available to pay top assistants that will recruit like mad. And the coach must have the golden touch with the transfer portal and the NIL inducements. Because if you get enough good-to-great players, the team will win many games. And if the team wins many games, then the fans will return to Mizzou Arena in large numbers.
8) Oh, yeah … and perhaps this coach will bring a fun-time offense to CoMo? That would be sweet. Missouri fans have suffered enough.
Here’s what I mean: in the eight combined seasons of Mike Anderson and Frank Haith, the Tigers had an average ranking of No. 30 in the nation in KenPom’s offensive efficiency. Considering that 335 teams are included in the rankings, that average of No. 30 is pretty fabulous.
Then this: in eight seasons of basketball under Kim Anderson and Martin, Mizzou’s average KenPom ranking for offensive efficiency was No. 145. If the empty seats at Mizzou Arena could walk out on their own and leave the game … who would blame them? Mizzou fans deserve some entertainment.
9) I don’t know why the next-coach discussion is in part being framed along the lines of “Mizzou should go get a scandalized bad-guy coach because all that matters is winning and we know that EVERYBODY cheats so let’s just go ahead and get nasty and filthy.” Let’s take a few seconds to ice down our heads, OK?
10) Look, I don’t care if Missouri Chancellor Mun Choi and the AD have an urge to pursue Rick Pitino, Gregg Marshall or Sean Miller. Let me amend that: actually I would care because Miller has an ominous NCAA investigation over his head for all sorts of slimy bidness at Arizona. And if he’s tagged with harsh penalties, those sanctions would follow him to Missouri and be imposed on the program. And if the goal is to go get an ace recruiter, Gregg Marshall could be radioactive given the nature of his dismissal by Wichita State. (Unless potential recruits are impressed by his punching ability and the grip of his chokehold.) The firing came after a months-long investigation of allegations that included multiple verbal and physical incidents against former players and staff members. Pitino turns 70 this coming fall, seems happy at Iona, and has a lot of skeletons in the walk-in closet where he keeps his designer suits.
I’m assuming Choi and Reed-Francois will avoid exploring this particular garden, one filled with snakes. Why? (A) Because I wouldn’t want to insult them by assuming otherwise. (2) I assume they’re smart enough to understand that snakes can harm careers. (3) Who needs legal bills? Doesn’t Mizzou have revenue problems? Unless I’ve misjudged Choi and DRF, Missouri won’t go there.
11) And as I said earlier in this piece, you don’t need a highwayman to win at college basketball. It’s not as if the Miller, Marshall and Pitino represent the ONLY possible options for hiring a new coach that will be a strong and successful new leader of an emaciated program.
Here’s another related opinion: if Choi and Reed-Francois want to go down that road that leads to the hiring of a rustler, it tells me they’re insecure about their ability to identify and hire a coach who can win without Mizzou officials worried about the FBI or other law-enforcement officials showing up at the administrative offices. If Choi and Reed-Francois think the only way to win is by going rogue, then they’re admitting to weakness and the lowering of their personal standards. And I don’t think they’ll do that … because they don’t have to do that. The MU leadership has to get after it, and have confidence in their judgment. There are plenty of good coaches out there. Go find one. You don’t need to stoop.
12) The name game doesn’t interest me that much, because just about all of these things turn out to be trips straight out of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. But if these speculative, wishful-thinking mentions of Dana Altman have any substance, then call Dollar Bill Laurie, fuel the private jet, and offer the Oregon coach whatever the hell he wants to become the next MU coach. The same applies to the looney-tunes wishcasting over Baylor’s Scott Drew.
13) I’m not advocating a mid-major coach to be Missouri’s choice. I have an open mind about all of this. But I have to say I’m getting a kick out of Mizzou fans that automatically rule it out, as if hiring a mid-major coach is far beneath Missouri. Yeah, right.
14) The snobbiness is misplaced but comical. Sure, we’ve seen many mid-major guys flop at the Power 6 level. We’ve also seen mid-major guys have exceptional success in leading a power-conference team. We also know that Norm Stewart, the greatest coach in Mizzou hoops history, was hired away from Northern Iowa.
Just to use one example, I’m not going to cross Matt McMahon (Murray State) off the list just because he’s gained and earned so many positive reviews at the mid-major level.
15) Sunday morning, I looked at the Top 50 or so programs. And while I didn’t examine the backgrounds of all 50 coaches, I came up with a representative list of mid–major home runs.
– Villanova hired Jay Wright from Hostra.
– Baylor hired Scott Drew from Valparaiso.
– Alabama hired Nate Oats from Buffalo.
– Illinois hired Bill Self after he’d coached two mid-majors, Oral Roberts and Tulsa.
– Duke hired the young Army coach named Mike Kryzewski.
– Purdue hired Matt Painter from Southern Illinois.
– Arkansas hired Eric Musselman from Nevada.
– Texas Tech hired Chris Beard from Arkansas-Little Rock. (Beard is coaching Texas now.)
– Iowa hired Fran McCaffrey from Siena.
– Virginia Tech hired Mike Young from Wofford.
– Buzz Williams had one year as a head coach at New Orleans, served as an assistant at Marquette, and landed head-coaching jobs at Marquette, Virginia Tech and Texas A&M.
– Providence hired Ed Cooley from Fairfield.
– Connecticut hired Dan Hurley from Rhode Island.
– Wake Forest hired Steve Forbes from East Tennessee State.
– Ohio State hired Chris Holtmann from Butler.
– USC hired Andy Enfield from Florida Gulf Coast.
– Colorado State hired Niko Medved from Furman; before that he coached Drake for a season.
16) I don’t know why Missouri would automatically exclude assistants such as Baylor’s Jerome Tang, a recruiting dynamo. When Sean Miller self-destructed at Arizona, the Wildcats smartly hired Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd. Boise State also hired a Gonzaga assistant in Leon Wright. There and many, many more examples of top assistants that made a winning leap to a head-coaching position. There’s no reason to rule out assistants.
Good luck, Missouri. Don’t fear the wrath of message boards or Twitter. The opinions out there are all over the place, so it’s best to do what you truly believe is best. I hope that the search leads to a new day, and a new way, for Mizzou basketball. We all want Mizzou basketball to recruit again. To matter again. To entertain again. To go dancing again. It’s been too long.
Thanks for reading …