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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Outstanding Choice for Oregon State

Little did Craig Robinson know that he'd come back to Corvallis, Oregon, to live and coach.

In the spring of 1983, Robinson co-captained the Princeton Tigers, who appeared in Corvallis as part of the NCAA western regional. Robinson's Tiger team was to face Big 8 champion Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (Also featured in that region were Jerry Tarkanian's UNLV Runnin' Rebels, the favorite to come out of the weekend in Corvallis and Jim Valvano's North Carolina State Wolfpack). The Princeton game featured a unique confluence -- two Division 1 schools' whose colors are orange and black playing against one another on the floor of a host school (Oregon State) whose colors are orange and black. And Princeton won the game in an upset!

The Tigers played Boston College (featuring, among others, Jay Murphy) in the second round and hung in there for about 35 minutes despite a terrible shooting performance in the second half (the Tigers were within a bucket at the half, I believe). And so they went home. N.C. State upset UNLV, came out of that part of the bracket and, yes, that was the year that Lorenzo Charles dunked Derek Wittenberg's airball, Jim Valvano ran around with no one to hug and the Wolfpack upset the heavily favored Phi Slamma Jamma Houston Cougars to win the national title.

And Craig Robinson is back to wearing orange and black and carrying on in the tradition of the legendary Ralph Miller (remember, OSU was a power about 30 years ago) after interludes wearing purple and brown. In case you missed the news, Oregon State named him its head coach the other day. Robinson was a two-time Ivy League player of the year, assisted Bill Carmody at Northwestern and distinguished himself in his two years at Brown. One loyal SportsProf reader, a Penn alum and partisan, advises that Craig Robinson did the best coaching job against Penn two years ago, when Penn won the Ivies, and did a great job this past season. He's a great guy, and I wish him the best in the ever-competitive Pac-10.

OSU fans -- you might fret initially because your school didn't hire a "big-name" coach. But the thing about "big-name" coaches is that sometimes you get them after they've hit their peak, when they prove again F. Scott Fitzgerald's adage that "there are no second acts in American life." Craig Robinson got to coaching a little late in his work life, so at 47 he's not a youngster age-wise in coaching. But he's young in terms of his coaching experience, and his best is yet to come. Your team hired a winner.

And, remember this: the most successful NCAA coach of all time, a guy by the name of John Wooden, was at UCLA for about 16 years before he won his first national title (of the ten he ultimately would win), and he was, yes, fifty-five, when he won that title. My point: Craig Robinson's coaching career has a lot of upside to it -- he's a very sound technical coach, and I'm sure he'll be able to recruit well enough to bring back the glory to a basketball program with a lot of tradition.

Good luck, Craig Robinson!

Go Beavers!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no idea whether Robinson will do well, but talking about his record at Brown, 30-28, never winning the conference title, in two years with mostly leftover recruits from previous coach Glenn Miller, doesn't really make me feel too good about his coaching/recruiting ability.

Add that to the fact that before that he was at Northwestern, which has been awful for years (and the Carmody/Princeton offense introduction has really done nothing to alleviate their doormat status) and I don't really see anything that qualifies him to be a coach at any school, let alone a Pac 10 school. He was certainly a nice player, but as Isiah Thomas has shown, that doesn't necessarily translate into coaching success.

But hey, if I'm Robinson and I have no real coaching resume and a Pac 10 school is offering me big bucks to leave the restrictive Ivy League, and the only expectation they have at the Pac 10 school is to improve upon last year's 0 conference wins, I'd take the job sight unseen too.

10:41 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for posting.

On paper, you make some good points. Carmody hasn't turned around Northwestern, but Oregon State isn't Northwestern and Robinson would have the admissions issues in Corvallis that Carmody does in Evanston. As for Brown, try wrestling the title away from Penn and Princeton both of those years. Sure, the Ivies are a far cry from the Pac-10, but all competition is relative. The bottom line is that he excelled in a difficult environment.

Also, OSU's prior choice, Jay John, was Lute Olson's top aide at Arizona. OSU's theory when it hired John had to be "winning begets winning", but unfortunately things didn't work out. OSU also could have hired a Coach assistant, but almost all save Mike Brey haven't succeeded.

Duke, a heralded program, hired a little-known Army coach, and all worked out fine. In the mid-60's, when it had a nationally ranked program, Princeton hired a little-known coach who only had one year of head coaching experience, and that year wasn't a success. Georgetown's most recent hire was a Princeton coach, who, truth be told, did a good job but wasn't as good a head coach as the guy at its archrival, Penn. Those 3 guys turned out to be Mike Krzyzewski, Pete Carril and John Thompson III.

So. . . who would you have preferred? The top assistants at the Final Four teams? Ben Howland's last top assistant, Jamie Dixon, is an outstanding head coach at Pitt, but it's unlikely that his current top aide would have taken the OSU job and ended up coaching twice a year against his former boss. It's hard to say, isn't it, what experience projects success for a newly hired head coach.

All that said, Craig Robinson has a good chance to become a (very) winning coach in Corvallis. I knew him way back when, and he's someone you'd want your kids to play for.

11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Try wrestling away the title from Penn and Princeton those years." It actually was Penn and Cornell.

"All competition is relative."
The RELATIVE in question is Barack Obama. IF Robinson's brother-in-law was named Lipschutz, would he be in Corvallis today?

1:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last anonymous guy beat me to it. Sportsprof, you of all people should realize that Princeton basketball hasn't been relevant in half a decade, and Joe Scott singe handedly relegated the Tigers to doormat status. They're not even worthy of being lumped in with Penn as "the killer Ps". Penn and Cornell are the Ivy elite now.

Like I mentioned in my first post, Robinson may be a great coach at OSU, but lauding him for his resume is pretty weak, as he has not really accomplished much of anything as a HC.

2:00 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Okay, so I am being a bit of a homer, but for reasons you don't realize.

I knew Craig Robinson way back when, and he is a great guy. Now, I know, you could say to me, "sure, you like your friends, but that doesn't mean they should work for your company" and you'd have a point. So, yes, there is a little bit of wishful thinking with respect to Craig Robinson. I do wish him well, but I honestly think that he will do a good job at OSU and, yes, I would want my kid to play for him.

Did he get the job because he's part of the Princeton family and it still has some of its mystique left? Did he get the job because he's Barack Obama's brother-in-law? Is his resume that bad and unworthy of his getting the job? Could OSU have done "better"?

All I know is that he's there now, and he's a good guy. And, remember, I wasn't the one who called for a Princeton alum to succeed Joe Scott -- I wanted Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon. Now, you could argue that this helps prove your point, but it also shows that I don't always dovetail to the Princeton default drive. Let's see what Craig Robinson does -- and in 3 years we'll see who's right.

But let's not be quick to say that Chris Collins or Steve W. at Duke would have been better choices. There's a mystique there, too, but that's hasn't predicted success.

3:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As an acolyte of the Ivy League, doesn't loyalty to the institution and the players count in your reckoning?

He was at Brown for two years.

8:34 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

No, I don't think that's an issue, for a variety of reasons. First, if he had two bad seasons, they probably would have pushed him out despite whatever his contract said. Second, you can't begrudge someone his success. He did coach well, and, when that happens, you become more desirable.

Bottom line: where ever you are, you want your direct reports to be attractive to the marketplace. That means that they -- and you -- are doing something right.

Sure, you want to retain them, and you can, say, if it's Marist that came calling. But it's hard to retain your b-ball coach if the Big East or Pac-10 is doing the asking.

9:53 AM  

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