When I tiredly opened the Twitter app on my phone while awaiting a train that was seven minutes away, the first news I saw was that Craig Robinson had been let go. It took a second to process, such are Monday mornings, but as that sunk in, all I could think was, “Now what?”
Bob De Carolis oozed confidence just a handful of weeks ago in noting that his coach would return. He listed everything Craig had accomplished that the previous five coaches following Ralph Miller had not pulled off. Now many of these accomplishments are meek (Oregon State had four wins against top-50 and six against top-100 NCAA basketball programs this past season, including wins over two teams that advanced to the Sweet 16), and none included an NCAA tournament visit. But Robinson had bested them all. Oregon State’s best coach in more than twenty years. And now he now joins them as a former Beaver.
While “now what” was my first thought, reactions to the news were the immediate response. To address:
1) Why is Craig Robinson being fired?
Aside from the aforementioned vote of confidence from his boss (you paying attention to this possible future candidates?) we can rationalize why Robinson was fired as the trajectory of his program was less than promising. He was about to lead a team that had very little talent. Everyone of note was leaving and the program’s win totals over his six years reads like this: 18, 14, 10, 21! 14, 16. The Beavers were going to be very bad in 2014-15, competing with that 2011 ten-win squad as worst Robinson team in Corvallis. This is an unfortunate scenario for a seventh year coach. The why fire him question is kind of easy to answer despite some of his semi-unprecedented success in Corvallis.
2) Why is he being fired now?
The quick answers here suggest money was in play. Robinson was owed $4M and will make that $4M whether or not he coaches in Corvallis. Someone with lots of money perhaps wanted Robinson out and made it a possibility for the athletic program to oust the First Coach. They accomplished this either by subsidizing the buyout or threatening to subsidize nothing. Money talks and this maybe wasn’t a possibility when schools normally fire their under-performing coach in – say – March. Because it’s May now and so….
3) But seriously, why now?
It’s May, every coaching gig has been inquired about, filled or rejected, recruiting is picking up, and everyone is leaving Eugene. You’re offering a job that most closely resembles a rusted ’93 Taurus that also needs a new transmission. And brakes. And a rear window. And probably three new wheels. Gone are the Beavers’ five leading contributors and they might only have a mitten to cover it up (that’s a joke noting that Gary Payton’s son – Gary “The Mitten” Payton II – will be starting at OSU this fall). From Drew:
Wow that Oregon State program is a mess right now. Why would someone want to coach there? Cupboards not just empty, cupboards missing.
— Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) May 5, 2014
The cupboard is bare, it’s non-existent and there isn’t even an appointment with the carpenter to build a new one. But taking over a talented roster is something only Steve Alford, Tubby Smith, and Bill Self got to do (sure there are others but that’s this moment’s #HotSportsTake). In moving coaching jobs, it’s not exactly a pre-requisite. A foundation for success, however, that’s a different story. Craig Robinson was sub-.500 and is the best coach the school’s had since they employed the second best Miller the conference has ever seen [winky face emoji]. In summary: they’re offering a bad role to a thin market.
The reactionary phase is satiated but we’re now back to my initial reaction: Now what?
Well Bob De Carolis lied to us in his press conference noting that he had “no candidates in mind.” Puh-lease. The third point above alludes completely and totally to the idea that there is someone lined up. At least that’s what I want to believe. And if there isn’t paperwork on someone’s desk that would make them the next coach inside Gill, then I have to ask, “BUT SERIOUSLY WHY NOW?” To not have a solid candidate lined up when working this far outside the realm of normal hiring cycles suggests ineptitude within an athletic department that seems to be pretty adept (solid football program, a top ranked baseball team, Women’s hoops danced, 2012-13 gymnastics conference champs).
The timing of this would seem to be an opportunity for De Carolis to either look brilliant or otherwise. 1) Awkwardly fire your coach to bring in [insert sexy hire here which could turn out to be Ben Howland which would be a monster hire at a school like OSU and might also demonstrate just how tarnished the Howland brand is in the wake of his departure from UCLA but we can probably dedicate an entire post to just that and cut out this run on sentence]. Or, 2) awkwardly fire your coach to bring in an elongated coaching hunt, an underwhelming name, and probably some serious heat.
The future of OSU basketball weighs in the De Carolis balances of decision making. And while part of that future is already written – the Beavs are going to suck next year – it’s the AD’s job to think big picture.
What is Bob De Carolis thinking?
Personal Note: I’m bummed to see Craig Robinson leave the conference. I defended his position when he was first retained because I thought he was, if nothing else, OSU’s best option. That’s the basketball side and while I don’t have particularly close access to these personalities, in my few opportunities, Robinson was a charming, thoughtful, funny guy. At Pac-12 Media Day I asked him about how his defense had improved by prefacing it with a comment on Barrack. He laughed, answered, and then coached the conference’s worst defense. But you laugh at my jokes and I think you’re good people. Good luck, Craig. You’ll probably do just fine.