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Where there’s no smoke, there’s usually no firing

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In spite of a sixteen-game losing streak, the moves that normally precede a firing aren’t happening.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

On February 16, 2016, a Vanderbilt team that had high hopes going into the season blew a 17-point lead and lost to a Mississippi State team that had been 10-14 entering the game. That left the Commodores with a 15-11 record and in real danger of missing the NCAA Tournament entirely, in spite of having two first-round NBA Draft picks on the roster, along with a third guy currently playing in the league.

That team would ultimately win four of five to finish the regular season (before a loss to a bad Tennessee to open the SEC Tournament) but that isn’t really the point of this post. The real point is that the day after that game, then-Athletic Director David Williams released a statement regarding Kevin Stallings’ job status. And that statement wasn’t “we have full confidence in our head coach,” it was “we’ll evaluate this at the end of the season.” (He also said similar things about women’s basketball coach Melanie Balcomb, who was fired after the season.)

Vanderbilt is notoriously tight-lipped about anything and everything, but even Vanderbilt will tip its hand when things are reaching a breaking point behind the scenes. At this level, at least in the major sports, decisions are never made quickly — but in some sense, they have to be made quickly, or at least shortly after the season ends. Buyouts have to be paid. Fan temperature has to be gauged. A coaching search list has to be ready. If you’re really smart about it, you’ve already contacted potential candidates through back channels to gauge their interest in the job.

In short: if you’re about to make a coaching change, you’ve probably already figured that out with a week or so left in the regular season, and in the case of the 2018-19 Vanderbilt basketball season, I’m not sure what additional information you would need to make that decision on March 1. All of which is to say that this doesn’t appear to be happening.

I know this will come as a disappointment to some of our readers. There’s no universe in which this performance is acceptable, though this all comes with the big caveat that the team’s best player — by a significant margin — was lost for the season in the fifth game. That said, I’ve made the argument for patience before, and really nothing has changed on that front: it’s the third year, recruiting is still going reasonably well, and Bryce Drew had enough of a track record prior to his Vanderbilt tenure to suggest that 2018-19 (and, honestly, 2017-18) is not representative of what he is capable of doing.

In short, it doesn’t appear that Vanderbilt is prepared to make a coaching change this month. If it were, there’s a good chance we’d know about it already.