Coaching longevity important to a program’s successby Javier Morales on Oct. 29, 2010, under Sports
While reading about past Pac-10 basketball media days — yes, the season can’t come soon enough — I stumbled upon quotes from every Pac-10 coach gloating about their team heading into the new millennium (Nov. 1, 2000).
That’s only 10 years ago. Number of coaches still coaching at the same school: Zero.
Quick, anyone remember who Washington State’s coach was in 2000? If you answered Paul Graham, take a bow and then ask yourself why you remember that.
Arizona’s Lute Olson was the dean of the coaches at the time, entering his 17th season — a model of longevity and consistency. His team would qualify for its fourth Final Four in what was an emotional roller coaster of a season. Two months after Olson took part in the Pac-10 media day, his wife of 47 years, Bobbi Olson, died of ovarian cancer.
Olson is now three years removed from coaching Arizona’s program. Three other coaches, including Sean Miller currently, have coached the Wildcats for at least one season since Olson’s career effectively ended after the 2006-07 season.
Cal’s veteran coach Mike Montgomery is still in the league; he was in his 14th year as head coach at Stanford in 2000-01. The second-longest tenured coach behind Olson that season, Montgomery was coming off a Naismith and Basketball Times Coach of the Year selection.
Other conference coaches in the league at the 2000 Pac-10 media day: Bob Bender of Washington, Ritchie McKay of Oregon State, Ben Braun of Cal, Henry Bibby of USC, Rob Evans of ASU, Steve Lavin of UCLA, and Ernie Kent of Oregon. All goners from the Pac-10.
Only Braun (third year at Rice) and Lavin (first year at St. John’s after trying broadcasting) are head coaches today.
“I don’t think I have the personality that I can wait for next year,” McKay, in his first year in Corvallis, said about his grand aspirations for the Beavers at the 2000 media day. After two seasons, McKay bolted to Albuquerque to coach New Mexico.
“We’re getting there. It’s been a steady process, but a worthwhile one,” said Braun, in his fifth season with Cal at the time. After never winning a Pac-10 title, Braun was removed as the Golden Bears coach in 2008.
“We are going to be competitive every night we go out and hopefully it will be good enough to win some basketball games,” said Bibby, whose team went to the Elite Eight that year, but he was fired only two years afterward.
The only coach other than Olson and Montgomery to accurately predict the extended future of his program was Graham, who proclaimed, “Washington State has a long way to go.” Graham, fired three seasons later, never reached an ideal destination with the Cougars.
Who will be coaching in the league 10 years from now? If any of the Pac-10 head coaches who took part in Thursday’s media day in Los Angeles are at the same school in 2020, that means the program will have enjoyed success nationally (as was the case in 2000 with Olson at Arizona and Montgomery at Stanford).
Miller’s current five-year contract (through 2013-14) will be extended another two years (through 2015-16) after this season, provided there are no grounds to fire him. Can’t see that happening inasmuch as the Cats were picked to finish No. 2 in the league, and Miller is recruiting arguably better than any other conference coach in only his second season after a tumultuous couple of years for the program.
All indications are Miller, who turns 42 on Nov. 17, will coach Arizona for as long as he wants. The Wildcats could sure use the stability of a head coach of 24 years or more like Olson.
Another example of longevity indicative of a hallowed career is Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, whose record of 291 consecutive starts is at risk because of a stress fracture in his left ankle. Since Favre’s streak started in 1992 (the same year Miller earned his bachelor’s degree in communications at Pitt), 212 other quarterbacks have started in the NFL, including 21 with the Chicago Bears.
Only three men have coached the Pittsburgh Steelers (Miller’s hometown team) since 1969 (41 years) — Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin — and each has a Super Bowl victory. Noll, coach of the Steelers for 24 years, won the Super Bowl four times.
Miller knows first-hand the importance of a prolonged career with one program. His father John Miller became a legendary coach of 29 years at Blackhawk High School in Chippewa Township, Beaver County, Pa. The elder Miller won four state titles with Blackhawk and coached more than 40 future collegiate players.
The coaching longevity at one place by John Miller and Noll makes it more of an eye-opener that not one Pac-10 coach from 2000 is at the same school.
Since Nov. 1, 2000, Arizona, ASU, Cal, Oregon, UCLA and Washington have featured two permanent head coaches (the UA also used interim coaches Kevin O’Neill and Russ Pennell in 2007-08 and 2008-09). Oregon State, Stanford and USC have employed three (the Trojans also had interim coach Jim Saia in 2004-05) and Washington State four.
That’s 25 different conference head coaches in a 10-year span.
Change will inevitably occur over the next 10 years. Montgomery, 63, will likely retire by then. Oregon’s Dana Altman is already 52 and a 16-year coaching veteran at Creighton. Can he put together a similar run in Eugene?
Nothing is guaranteed that Miller, O’Neill (USC), Ken Bone (Washington State), Craig Robinson (Oregon State) and Johnny Dawkins (Stanford) will be around for an extended period of time.
ASU’s Herb Sendek is only 47 and in his fifth season in Tempe. It would not be a surprise if he stayed at ASU 20 more years or left after two.
Ben Howland (eighth season at UCLA) and Lorenzo Romar (ninth at Washington) have shown staying power. Arizona fans will know if Miller will join Howland and Romar as mainstays if he rejects his first significant job offer, similar to when Olson declined Kentucky’s offer in 1989.