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Sports >  NCAA basketball

Pac-12 Hotline: Will any men’s basketball coaches be fired this spring? Probably not

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 8, 2021

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

College basketball’s stretch run typically brings intensified interest in postseason position and hot-seat speculation: If the coach isn’t churning toward success on Selection Sunday, is he headed for dismissal on Black Monday?

The termination calculation isn’t necessarily the same this season, with rosters in constant flux, athletic budgets in disarray and pandemic optics at top of mind for university officials.

No less than five Pac-12 coaches who might be on uncertain ground in a normal year are seemingly safe this spring, for reasons outlined below.

In other words, it’s time for a Pac-12 seat heat check (listed alphabetically):

Stanford’s Jerod Haase: Why it should be hot: No program in the conference has defined mediocrity better than Stanford over Haase’s tenure. The Cardinal’s conference record in his first four seasons: 6-12, 11-7, 8-10 and 9-9. That’s 34-38, just a tick under .500. Stanford has recruited well, but the offense is consistently erratic and the atmosphere at once-rowdy Maples Pavilion is what you would expect to find in a bookstore.

Why it’s not: Because Haase has produced the best coaching job of his Stanford tenure this season, with the Cardinal contending for an NCAA Tournament berth (wins over Alabama, UCLA and Arizona) despite the prolonged absence of several starters. Also, because athletic director Bernard Muir, who hired Haase, seemingly will be inclined to give his coach the benefit of the doubt. Finally, don’t forget that Muir announced the elimination of 11 sports last summer because of budget woes. While the terms of Haase’s buyout are private, the act of changing basketball coaches in the wake of a financially driven decision on 11 sports feels politically fraught.

Washington’s Mike Hopkins: Why it should be hot: After two encouraging years to start the Hopkins era, the Huskies have collapsed: They are 7-23 in conference play in the past 1½ seasons, often appear clueless on offense and are careening toward one of the worst records in school history. (When Washington only loses by single digits, it’s news.) What’s more, the once-soaring recruiting momentum has stalled out, and there is no clear path out of the quagmire.

Why it’s not: First and foremost, because the boss said it’s not. In a recent interview with the Seattle Times, athletic director Jen Cohen indicated that Hopkins’ job is “absolutely not” in jeopardy. And it shouldn’t be. A stretch of two bad seasons isn’t sufficient cause for termination, especially when they’re following two unexpectedly good seasons. We’re not even at the point with Hopkins’ job security that the finances (i.e., his buyout) should be part of the consideration. It’s simply too soon to consider a change. But if UW doesn’t make substantial improvement next season, it might be time for termination on Montlake.

Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak: Why it should be hot: After four consecutive 20-win seasons – a stretch that included two NCAA Tournament berths – the Utes have stagnated: 17-14 two years ago, 16-15 last year, and now 8-7. They’re phenomenally inconsistent, and perhaps more significant, have lost ground relative to programs like Colorado, USC and, this season aside, Arizona State. Krystkowiak is finishing his 10th season with the Utes. Most coaches eventually succumb to the rut – there are precious few Kyle Whittinghams.

Why it’s not: With three wins in their past four games, the Utes are poised for a solid finish. Beyond the scoreboard, however, lies the balance sheet: Utah has a budget shortfall of $35 million (approximately), everyone in the department took furloughs, and Krystkowiak’s buyout is believed to approach $10 million. (He has two years left on a deal that pays about $3.75 million annually.) But of the five coaches highlighted here, his ground seems most likely to liquefy if the final month were to turn ugly.

Arizona’s Sean Miller: Why it should be hot: Well, there’s the FBI sting operation that found a former assistant coach guilty of federal bribery … and the NCAA investigation that led to Level One violations … and the 2021 postseason ban that serves as both acknowledgment of program guilt and plea for mercy. Oh, and this: Once again, the Wildcats aren’t very good. , again. They’re one game over .500 in conference play this season and one game over (total) for the past 2½ seasons. Most recent NCAA Tournament win: March 18, 2017.

Why it’s not: We have no earthly idea, except that university president Robert Robbins believes in Miller – that his behavior didn’t breach an acceptable standard, that keeping him won’t jeopardize the program’s viability, that any sanctions against Miller specifically can be overcome, and that Miller remains qualified to lead Arizona back to the top once the storm clouds clear. That could take another season or two.

Oregon State’s Wayne Tinkle: Why it should be hot: Tinkle took the Beavers to the NCAA Tournament in 2016, but it has been all murk and mediocrity in Corvallis ever since: OSU has posted losing records in conference play in three of the past four years – often in a small arena (9,600 capacity) that isn’t even half full. The program seems to be plodding along, well above lifeless but far below ascendant.

Why it’s not: At this very moment, the Beavers have won five of their past seven and are within range of an opening-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. (They’re also staring at a pandemic-related $35 million shortfall for the current fiscal year.) We won’t guarantee that Tinkle returns for next season – a complete collapse could force OSU’s hand. But dismissal feels unlikely, especially in the aftermath of the anonymous $50 million donation for Reser Stadium: The gift changes everything for the athletic department, casting a lighter, brighter hue on each program and every coach.

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