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Friday, July 19, 2019

Does Coaching Really Matter?

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By Clay Kallam

Does coaching matter?

And no, not just recruiting, even though that’s by far the most important part of college coaching. Just coaching, making it possible for players to get the most out of their ability as individuals, and finding a way to get the most out of the roster that’s already been assembled.

Try this comparison: Northwestern versus George Washington.

When Joe McKeown left George Washington after the 2007-08 season, the Colonials were coming off consecutive seasons of 23-9, 28-4 and 27-7. Northwestern, his new location, had occupied the basement in the Big 10 for so long, the “Mildcats” had worn holes in the carpet. Their records prior to McKeown’s arrival? 6-22, 8-22 and 5-26.

It was expected that McKeown (pronounced “Mc-Q-an”) would improve the situation at Northwestern, as the Big 10 is a league in decline, and he had built George Washington into a national power. Still, his first year was a 7-23 struggle, as he tried to reverse decades of futility. This year, though, the Wildcats are 13-9 overall, and though the roster is stacked with freshmen, three players who average more than 29 minutes a game were here when McKeown arrived – and another veteran plays 15.9 minutes per game.

Meanwhile, Mike Bozeman has had a tougher time adjusting at George Washington. After three seasons as an assistant – and a brilliant high school coaching career at Bishop McNamara in D.C. – Bozeman guided the Colonials to a 17-14 record in 2008-09. But this season? Well, playing with a young roster, with none of McKeown’s recruits, George Washington is just 5-15.

Does coaching matter? Is there a reason Kim Mulkey got a million-dollar deal from Baylor? In a word, yes – and the proof is not just in Evanston, Illinois, but all over the collegiate map. How to tell if a school is serious about women’s basketball? Simple – figure out how much the administration is willing to pay the coach. If the check is small, so is the commitment—and it doesn’t take a degree from Northwestern to figure out that the wins, or losses, will mirror the quality of the coach.

* * * * *

And speaking of coaching, how about the USC-Oregon match-up last week? At one end of the scorer’s table was Michael Cooper; at the other, Paul Westhead.

The two were rivals in the WNBA Western Conference, and now are going head-to-head in the Pac-10. It’s a fun fact, to be sure, but it’s also very revealing. How many NBA head coaches have fled winning situations at the pro level to take over college programs? Ummm, zero? And though Westhead did come from the NBA, he was an assistant who was fired when his boss, P.J. Carlesimo, got the ax, and needed work. He could have had his pick of several WNBA jobs, given his title-winning ways in Phoenix, but instead went to Oregon, a program in decline with a roster stocked with exactly the wrong kind of players for his system.

But not only does the college game offer more money than the WNBA, there’s also much more security. WNBA coaches are just a five-game losing streak away from getting fired (just ask former Sacramento coach Jenny Boucek), but at the NCAA level, the commitment is a little greater, and the scrutiny a little less.

Oh, and speaking of scrutiny, Oregon beat USC, 85-77, at the new Galen Center on the USC campus. Only the most perceptive readers would know that bit of information, and the announced crowd of 1,102 was undoubtedly considerably less in reality. For Cooper and Westhead, though, attendance isn’t nearly as important as the size of the check, the quality of the facilities and the security of the job.

And that’s why the coaching pipeline will always flow from the WNBA to college, and not the other way around.

* * * * *

And while we’re on the West Coast, consider Joanne Boyle, who like Joe McKeown, had turned a program around in Berkeley. But last year, the Bears graduated Ashley Walker and Devanei Hampton and brought in a brilliant recruiting class.

So now Boyle is trying to develop all those freshmen while still winning games, and particularly after the loss of Tierra Rodgers, it hasn’t been going quite as Boyle would have liked. Cal is just 11-9 on the season, a far cry from the back-to-back 27-7 seasons the Bears put up in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Still, as has been said over and over again by coaches downing the second post-game martini, the best thing about freshmen is that next year they’re sophomores, and Boyle has seen signs of hope. Before dropping a 63-61 decision Arizona State on a last-second shot, Cal had won five in a row, and it appears that Boyle and company are heading in the right direction.

That won’t take the sting out of the season for the very competitive Boyle, but it would be unwise to write the Bears off based on this year’s record. They have another good recruiting class coming in, and though the ibuprofen has been swallowed by the handful by Cal’s coaching staff this season, there are clearly better days ahead.



Originally published Mon, February 01, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.