Providence ended its season with yet another Big East Tournament first round loss, which pegged the final record at 15-16 for the year. But its more than the results of the 2007-08 season that will weigh heavily on school president Father Shanley and athletic director Bob Driscoll. The fate of their basketball coach, Tim Welsh, lies in the balance.
Welsh's contract is the issue. If he had two or three years left on the contract, there likely would be no decision to be made. But with one year remaining, the school either has to extend him or let him go. To allow Welsh to play out the final year of his contract without an extension would be suicidal in terms of recruiting, especially with at least five scholarships to give in the next recruiting class.
There are things working against Welsh in this situation that extend beyond the past season and whether or not point guard Sharaud Curry was available. Frankly, the numbers are stark.
Five losing seasons in ten years. Five seasons with no postseason play. One Big East Tournament win in ten seasons with one miss of the Big East Tournament. No NCAA wins in two appearances. A 3-14 record overall in the postseason.
To make matters worse, the Friars have made fading late under Welsh a habit, often swooning in late February and March, just when the stakes are at their highest. And compounding the damage, the past four years have seen only one winning season and one postseason appearance, creating a negative trend that has turned fans who are starved for success, against the coach.
Truth is, Welsh has never been the luckiest coach. Injuries have plagued him throughout his tenure at PC; from Romuald Augustin to Abdul Mills to John Linehan and this season, Curry. Injuries have stripped him of these players for entire seasons, and sabotaged any possibility of momentum and success.
However, injuries are part of the game, and every team has to deal with them. Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame all dealt with debilitating injuries this season, to some degree, including some to point guards, and all managed to sustain at least NCAA bubble aspirations. None came close to recording a losing season.
The decision on whether to extend Welsh or let him go has to be about more than an injury to a player this season, no matter how valuable the player. The decision has to be about looking at the overall picture and examining a reasonably large body of work. Tim Welsh has coached 303 games at Providence. Only Joe Mullaney coached more games for the Friars. His record in that span is barely over .500, at 160-143. Over the past four years, it's been a disappointing 59-61.
The decision will not be an easy one for Father Shanley or Bob Driscoll on a personal level. Both desperately wanted Tim to succeed this season. Had that happened, the decision to extend him would have been an easy one. Both are friends with Welsh and both feel strongly that Welsh is an excellent representative for the College. And he is. Tim Welsh is a good man, a solid coach and an excellent ambassador for Providence College. Unfortunately, college basketball is a business, and the bottom line of that business is winning, which translates into dollars for the school. And a solid coach without enough wins or postseason success in a ten year period, and only a year left on his contract, puts himself in a precarious position.
Which brings up the matter of the deep-pocketed boosters and alumni. PC is a school that has traditionally not been overflowing with boosters of this type, and a source close to the situation who insisted on anonymity, reports that many of them have been trying to get in Father Shanley and Driscoll's ears over the past month or so. Some have lobbied hard for Welsh's removal, while others have lobbied just as vigorously for his retention. Of those lobbying for Welsh's retention, some are certainly friends of the coach, who began supporting PC financially when Welsh became coach. Certainly their donations could disappear the second that Welsh is let go.
As for the fan base… unquestionably, that's a well that has been poisoned, possibly to the point of being unfixable. Booing the coach is an art form for Providence College fans, and boos and chants were heard throughout the latter part of the season at the Dunk. The negative atmosphere was almost palpable. The empty seats were obvious. Should Providence retain Welsh, the effect on ticket sales could be noticeable. Winning is the only cure, at this point; consistent winning… and there simply hasn't been enough winning over the past four years to stave off the apathy, or the outright hostility that fans have exhibited towards Welsh.
So, decision time is bearing down on the powers-that-be at Providence College, and it won't be easy for anyone involved. The only thing certain is that a decision must be made in a timely fashion to salvage recruiting, and towards that end, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect an announcement of some sort early next week. Whatever that decision is, one can only hope that the best interests of Providence College basketball, in the big picture, are put first.
Where Does Providence Go From Here?
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