It’s never fun to put together any sort of “hot seat” list.
In an ideal world, every college basketball coach in America would win enough games, and do enough with their programs, to justify keeping them all around for another season. But there are over 350 head coaching jobs in a highly-competitive, multi-million dollar sport. That’s just not the way things work in sports.
So, every year, we go over some of the big-name head coaches who could be in trouble if they have a bad season. Many years, some of the coaches on this list make us look dumb by having a big season and effectively “saving” their jobs. Other times, we can already see a program trending in the wrong direction, and things just aren’t going to change.
The hot seat doesn’t have nearly as many names on it this year. There isn’t an FBI scandal to keep certain seats warm. And given a lot of the coaching turnover of the past few offseasons, there are still many coaches who are in their first two years on the job.
But here are some coaches to watch for this season as they try to do everything they can to build positive momentum going forward.
DO NOT SIT DOWN
Steve Alford, UCLA: Coming off of another disappointing season in which they barely made the First Four, the pressure is, once again, on Alford to win at UCLA. Other programs would kill to have three Sweet 16 appearances in five seasons. But things are done a bit differently at UCLA. That fanbase expects Final Four runs and national championships. So Alford’s five-year stretch isn’t exactly cutting it. Alford’s 67.2 percent winning percentage is the lowest of any UCLA coach since Walt Hazzard’s 62.1 percent winning percentage in 1948. When you also factor in the off-the-court incident in China, and Alford needs a good season from his talented team.
Ernie Kent, Washington State: In four seasons at the helm, Washington State has never won more than 13 games in a season as the Cougars are only 47-77 and 18-54 in Pac-12 play under Kent. While Kent deserves some slack for having to manage one of the toughest jobs in the country, he’s clearly not the right guy for the job. Recruiting buzz for Washington State is nonexistent. The team doesn’t look like a major competitor in a mediocre Pac-12 either. If Washington State has another abysmal season, it could be time for a change.
Richard Pitino, Minnesota: After building some positive momentum with an NCAA tournament appearance in 2017, Minnesota and Pitino saw all of that come crashing down last season. One of the most disappointing teams in the nation last season, the Golden Gophers finished 15-17 and 4-14 in the Big Ten after returning most of its roster from the year before. Pitino has also seen his fair share of off-the-court incidents during his time at Minnesota. His players faced sexual assault allegations and an arrest for domestic violence. Pitino’s original AD that hired him, Norwood Teague, has also been ousted amid his own sexual harassment scandal. If Minnesota doesn’t have a serious turnaround season then Pitino could find himself looking for another job.
THEY COULD USE A BIG YEAR
Dave Leitao, DePaul: The second time around at DePaul hasn’t been very kind to Leitao. Although Leitao found success with the Blue Demons in the early part of the century when they were in Conference USA, the unforgiving Big East hasn’t been nearly as reasonable. DePaul is 9-45 in Big East play during Leitao’s most recent three-year tenure as they have an abysmal 29-65 overall. A shiny, new downtown arena has helped the Blue Demons recruit reasonably well given their recent basement-dweller status. But Leitao needs to start winning actual games and making some form of postseason in order to turn the corner and take the next step.
Danny Manning, Wake Forest: It’s crazy to think that at this time last year, Manning had the momentum of an NCAA tournament appearance and a first-round draft pick in big man John Collins. This list goes to show that things can change very quickly in one year. After a hugely disappointing 2017-18 that saw them finish 11-20 and 4-14 in the ACC, Manning and the Demon Deacons find themselves near the bottom of the league. Wake Forest does have a very solid recruiting class coming in that could re-energize the program. But Manning only has one tournament appearance while going 20-52 in the ACC over his four-year tenure. The results need to be more consistent for Manning to stay at Wake.
Chris Mullin, St. John’s: St. John’s was hoping that this prized alum could help restore the program’s former glory. That hasn’t been the case. While Mullin and his staff have recruited some talented top-100 talents who have put up some decent individual numbers, the winning hasn’t followed. In three season, St. John’s is only 38-60 and 12-42 in the Big East during Mullin’s time in charge as they’ve been slightly better than DePaul during that stretch. There is no arguing Mullin’s impact on St. John’s as a player. He is probably the greatest player in program history. He just doesn’t look like the right guy to coach his alma mater.
JUST DON’T BE TERRIBLE, OK?
Pat Chambers, Penn State: The Nittany Lions just finished a solid season in which they won the NIT. It’s also very notable that Chambers is the only high-major head coach that is currently employed despite missing the last seven NCAA tournaments at their current job. With star guard Tony Carr leaving for the pros this offseason, the NCAA tournament might not be realistic for Penn State this season. Is that going to be an issue for Chambers as he was just starting to turn the corner with this group?
Fran McCaffery, Iowa: After eight seasons at the helm, it is going to take a lot for Iowa to move on from McCaffery. He’s a great basketball coach, and he has multiple high-caliber sons who will play for the Hawkeyes in the next few seasons. But last season’s disappointing 4-14 finish in the Big Ten has some fans getting restless. McCaffery only has three NCAA tournament appearances in those eight seasons at Iowa, as the fanbase would love more consistency. McCaffery has a lot of young talent at Iowa. Now is the time to turn that into yearly postseason trips.
Tim Miles, Nebraska: The Cornhuskers were actually one of the biggest surprise teams in college basketball last season, but they managed to come up short of the NCAA tournament. That means Miles has fallen short of the sport’s biggest stage in five of his six seasons as head coach. Nebraska is going to have reasonable expectations once again this season. As long as the Huskers don’t bottom out, and make the postseason, Miles should not feel any legitimate heat.