Don’t hate the player, hate the game: understanding the collegiate coaching carousel

 

Former VCU men’s basketball head coach Will Wade and former University of Dayton head coach Archie Miller left their respective fan bases feeling betrayed last month when they announced their decisions to depart for bigger schools with deeper wallets.

Wade signed a six-year contract with Louisiana State University less than a year after signing an eight-year contract with VCU that allotted him a $1.4 million annual base salary plus bonuses and incentives.

LSU’s former skipper, Johnny Jones, made a comparable $1.5 million in his final season in Baton Rouge. The financial details of Wade’s deal have not been disclosed, but it will presumably exceed these numbers.

Indiana University inked Miller — a more established coaching entity — to a seven-year deal worth “in the range” of $4 million annually, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Prior to their decisions, Wade and Miller were nationally-regarded as the hottest coaching commodities on the market. The fact that they left established and prosperous “mid-major” programs for SEC and BIG 10 schools as they enter the prime of their careers should neither surprise or anger anybody — even the most devout Rams and Flyers.

This is how college coaching works, folks — it’s a constant carousel where “commitment” means little more than a number on a paycheck and those who are familiar with the business side of basketball realize this.

“Congrats, Will,” said VCU 2011-15 point guard Briante Weber, who signed a slew of 10-day NBA deals before finally locking-in a long-term contract with the Charlotte Hornets late last month. “Sometimes, you do what you have to.”

Wade and Miller took career opportunities that few — if any — young coaches would have passed up.

Despite LSU sporting a 10-21 basketball record last year and the fact that his introductory press conference took place in their equivalent to the Student Commons, Wade said he views the program as a “sleeping giant.”

His lofty perception is not without merit. The Tigers have been to four Final Fours in their history, the last in 2006. Big-time recruits are not unfamiliar with LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center either, as last year’s top pick in the NBA draft — Ben Simmons — spent his one year of college ball in Baton Rouge.

Oh by the way, this guy named Shaquille O’Neal went there — you may have heard of him.

The allure of the hallowed basketball halls of Bloomington, Indiana, meanwhile, needs no explanation. Miller’s decision to coach the Hoosiers was a no-brainer — sorry, Flyer fans, but that’s the reality of it.

Coaches can and will take the next step in their careers when given the opportunity. The amount of animosity pouring out of Richmond and Dayton, Ohio is frankly unfounded.

Yes, the VCU and Dayton basketball programs are in the process of taking the next step in their own progression.

The A-10 powerhouses are no longer nationally perceived as “mid-majors” but rather aspire to be “basketball schools” akin to the likes of perennial contenders lacking the financial backing of football programs such as Wichita State University, Gonzaga University and Butler University.

This does not mean, however, that young coaches should be expected to wait around while these programs blossom. Jeff Capel, Anthony Grant, Shaka Smart, and now Will Wade have come and gone while basketball on Broad Street has continued to grow and prosper.

VCU basketball will not skip a beat under top Final Four assistant and new head coach Mike Rhoades, nor will Dayton experience a lull under its new leader, Smart’s predecessor Grant, who played there from 1983-87 and made two NCAA tournaments.

Gregg Marshall has been the head coach at Wichita State since 2007, and Mark Few has led the Bulldogs of Gonzaga since 1999. Both have turned down a litany of offers from bigger schools and even NBA teams during their tenures.  

These are the programs, and that is the type of long-term commitment which VCU and Dayton seek to emulate. Fans are completely within their rights to feel betrayed at the abrupt departure of coaches they had hoped would be in it for the long haul.

The animosity from fans has been blatantly excessive, though.

Wade and Miller, who are both considerably younger than Marshall and Few, are doing exactly what the vast majority would do in their situations — we just don’t realize it, because our passion for our schools clouds our perception.

There is, however, a choice decorum and manner in which the move should transpire, and Wade, unlike Miller, did not adhere to these unwritten rules. Granted, Wade has no deep ties to VCU — he attended and began his coaching career at Clemson University — and only spent two years at the helm on Broad Street, whereas Miller has coached at Dayton since 2011.

But the contrast in their consideration for their respective players and fan bases is glaring.

It has been widely speculated that VCU players discovered Wade’s decision on social media in the same manner that fans did.

“Called it,” tweeted VCU junior forward Justin Tillman shortly after the news broke, suggesting the seeds of distrust had been present for quite some time.

Miller, meanwhile, bowed out of Ohio with the utmost humility and appreciation in a letter addressed to the Dayton community.

“My family and I have been embraced and supported every day since arriving in Dayton six years ago,” Miller wrote. “We can’t thank the University enough. Most importantly, to the PLAYERS, you are everything to us. This opportunity wouldn’t be possible without you. Whenever you need us you know we will be there for you! Dayton Basketball will continue to thrive. Your biggest fans will be in Bloomington, Indiana.”

Would it have been that hard, Will?

It is okay to be angry with a coach for leaving his players and fans hanging.

It is not okay to let your passion cloud your judgment — this is a business, and Will Wade made a decision that will pay him more in the short term and set him up for a quicker climb up the coaching ladder in the long haul.

For Miller, Indiana is a cathedral of college basketball history and may be the elder coach’s final career stop if all goes well.

Wade made a decision that, for a young college basketball coach, was a no-brainer. It’s not fair to criticize his decision, but it is entirely in bounds to scrutinize the manner in which he conducted the process.

So, RamNation, let your passion flow in the form of animosity all you want, just make sure it’s not misplaced.
In the wise words of the venerable Ice T, don’t hate the player — hate the game.


SPORTS EDITOR

Zach Joachim. Photo by Julie TrippZach Joachim
Zach is a junior pursuing a dual degree in print journalism and English. A proud Norfolk-ian, he enjoys long walks on the beach, English literature of the romantic period and anything pertaining to Harry Potter or baseball. Zach an avid Red Sox and Patriots fan who can usually be found working at the Student Media Center or running along the James.
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