Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Midwest Version Of UNLV No More?

In one corner, you have University of Cincinnati President Nancy Zimpher, who is charged with running an entire university, and not just an excuse of a school that envelops a perenially Top-25 Division I hoops program. In the other corner, you have Bob Huggins, the head coach of a hoops program that probably gets the most attention for off-the-court issues since Jerry Tarkanian's Fresno State and, yes, UNLV, squads. The battle that they are fighting, or so it seems, is about the image of the University of Cincinnati, and whether the sacrifices that the school has made for its hoops program are worth it.

Right now, Zimpher is winning, if for no other reason than the fact that Huggins has only two years left on his contract. That's an important fact, because most coaches have at least five years remaining on their deals, if for no other reason than to tell their recruits that they'll be around to see them graduate (or, perhaps more realistically in certain cases, exhaust their eligibility). If don't have those five years remaining, your rivals will use it against you in recruiting. Basically, they'll say, "how can you be so sure that Coach X will be there; he only has 2 years remaining on his contract?" That issues matters a lot more than most people think.

The linked article indicated that Huggins was on his way to do some fishing near where he grew up in Eastern Ohio. From the looks of it, President Zimpher is doing some (lame) duck hunting.

Shotguns beat fishing poles.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out and where a university president will land on the issue of the balance between academics and athletics. Clearly, the issue weighs on her, and clearly she wants the University of Cincinnati brand to mean more than the achievements and exploits of the Bob Huggins-led basketball program.

Right now, it appears that Nancy Zimpher believes that her legacy might be intertwined with that of Bob Huggins' basketball program. If that's truly the case, then as a leader of an academic institution she'll have no alternative but to fire Huggins and to bring in a coach whose approach is more in line with her vision of what a university should be.

That sounds pretty easy, doesn't it? But you could guess that Huggins has built up a lot of chits with boosters at Cincinnati, some of whom might well have influence on the Board of Trustees of the school, who are Nancy Zimpher's bosses too. So, the trustees will have a choice to make -- do they back the university president or do they back the basketball coach?

Given the facts to date -- that Huggins hasn't received a contract extension -- it appears that they've already cast their lot.

With Nancy Zimpher.

Bob Huggins ultimately will land elsewhere, and he'll resurrect some moribund program that was on life support before he got there.

The University of Cincinnati will move on, and hopefully Huggins' successor will fare better in Cincinnati that Jerry Tarkanian's did in Las Vegas.

You'll remember that guy. He won a national championship at Villanova and had great bona fides before moving to Las Vegas, guy by the name of Rollie Massimino. UNLV couldn't have gotten a bigger name than Coach Mass, or a guy with a better reputation at the time.

But, relatively speaking, Coach Mass failed, precisely because operating differently he couldn't bring UNLV's men's hoops program to the heights that his predecessor had. That was a tall task, and following a legend, tarnished or not, is a difficult job.

Cincinnati appears headed in the same direction.

It's a courageous decision to make, one that will probably cost Cincinnati the national attention that it has received because the successor teams aren't likely to fare as well as those under Huggins.

But, to a university president's (and many others') way of thinking, that's a small sacrifice when the greater good of the university is at stake.

(Thanks to Yoni of the College Basketball Blog for the link.)


Anonymous said...

You, quite frankly, have no idea of what you speak. Huggins graduation rates, as of now, rival EVERY top 25 program in the nation. He has shown the University loyalty at every turn, especially in the mid 90's, when he turned down multiple opportinuties to take over NBA teams.

That said, Zimpher has employed this same "slash and burn" philosophy at UW Milwaukee. However, she is now playing her game against one of the most highly respected coaches in the US, with a large, local alumni base with $$$$$$$$$. The perception of the program, quite simply, does not match the reality.

Zimpher is playing with fire here, and do not be suprised if SHE is the one who gets burned.....

Anonymous said...

Two to three academic years down the road it appears that the writer knows exactly whereof he speaks, and the comment-poster is absolutely ignorant. Zimpher did not "get burned" by UC trustees or anybody else save local talk-radio hosts -- always a sharp bunch, right? Mick Cronin is considered a viable candidate for Big East Coach of the Year. UC is boasting higher enrollment numbers, higher freshman GPAs, and better retention percentages than those of the immediate pre-Zimpher era.

So there, you go, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. Hmmmm....It just occurred to me that this post will show up under the tag "Anonymous" as well. How will people tell us apart?

Oh, of course: I'm the Anonymous who got it right.