In this day and age, it seems, the fate of any good-but-not-elite coach is either to be fired, or to move on before the wolves come.
That's the conclusion that Gary Parrish drew this week when Jamie Dixon, longtime Pitt basketball coach, jumped off to take the head coaching job at TCU. It is, as Parrish said, the obvious conclusion to draw from the career arc of Oliver Purnell, a man who managed to be employed as a Division 1 head basketball coach for 27 years in spite of winning 54 percent of his games -- simply because he always managed to skip town before the fans started calling for his head.
In a different era, Kevin Stallings would be his old college head coach, Gene Keady, a man who won 65 percent of his career games as a head coach but also made a regular habit of inexplicable early-round flameouts in the NCAA Tournament. He'd be Norm Stewart. Stallings isn't quite on the level of those two, but in spite of whatever warts they had, both stayed at one school for several decades.
In 2016, you can maybe do that if you're at a mid-major. At a power conference school, unless you're a championship coach (Krzyzewski, Izzo, Calipari, etc.), your options are to be Oliver Purnell or Kevin Stallings. You can jump ship after a few years to a new job or you can try to stay forever and wind up getting fired.
That's why, until this year, the debates among the fanbase frequently got ugly: on one side, you had the crowd who saw a coach who went to five NCAA Tournaments in six years at a place where that had never happened before and appreciated what he had done, and on the other side, you had the crowd who saw that and decided that making the NCAA Tournament consistently wasn't good enough, and now the coach should be judged on whether he could win a game once there.
After this season, we've pretty much all decided that a change needs to be made -- namely because the crowd who's satisfied with merely making the tournament isn't satisfied any more. But that begs the question: what are the expectations for the next coach?
We can all agree that if the next coach makes a Final Four within his first five years, we're happy with that. And we can all agree that if the next coach misses the tournament four years in a row, he should be fired. But odds are that the new coach will fall somewhere in between. Odds are that over his first five years, the new coach will make the tournament two or three times. Maybe he'll win a game or two, maybe he won't. Maybe he'll get to the Elite Eight one year and flame out in the first round in the other years.
What is good enough for us now?