Pernetti must make decision ...but not now

Following a fourth straight defeat and second consecutive poor showing on the road, and in light of star center Greg Echenique announcing he will transfer, fans are calling for the ouster of Rutgers men's basketball coach Fred Hill. However, would that be the smart decision? Or, is it best to wait and make a decision after the second half of the season plays out?

The outcry is gaining steam, from message boards calling for Rutgers basketball coach Fred Hill's immediate departure to the wishful lists of who the Scarlet Knights' next coach should be.

The frustration is understandable, and a few more efforts like the blowout loss at West Virginia and the misleading not-as-close-as-it-looked defeat at Providence, and whether Hill gets a fifth season will not even be a question.

But for Hill to be ousted immediately would be an unwise situation on many levels.

It is not what a frustrated fan base who is clamoring for mild success – heck, an NIT bid seems like a daring pipedream right now – wants to hear, but from a practical purpose it makes little sense to make a decision on Hill's future right now.

In the long term is makes no sense for athletic director Tim Pernetti to make a change in mid-season and begin a coaching search.

First and foremost, Hill deserves a chance to finish the season and see what he can make of it. At 9-6, 0-3 in the Big East, and the lack of enthusiasm and readiness many of the Scarlet Knights are exhibiting at the beginning of games lately, it doesn't look good.

Right now things look terribly bleak for the Scarlet Knights, but crazy things do happen. In coming back against Providence to cut a 22-point deficit to 89-81 late, it showed the players have not given up.

It sends the wrong message to the current players, and to prospective replacements. First of all, if Hill is fired now, who coaches the team?

Will one of the assistant coaches do a better job?

And, with half of the schedule still needed to be played, what would a firing tell the players? That the administration has given up on the season and is already looking at 2010-12?

Also, what about the future coach, again, if that is the direction Pernetti takes? Hill had the reputation of being the "chosen one" to lead the Scarlet Knights back to respectability. The message it would send out is if Pernetti fired Hill in midseason, what would he do to someone not previously tied closely to the program when a rut is hit?

If the Scarlet Knights targeted a young, up-and-coming coach (a la how Jay Wright wound up at Villanova), would the coach be willing to take a job where the athletic director fired a coach after starting the Big East conference 0-3?

Again, the frustration of the fan base is noted, but there are other issues. Fans and the media ask players to never give up, and firing Hill, in this instance, would signal the administration's decision to give up on the season.

When the Big East tournament concludes Hill's resume will speak for itself, and if it doesn't improve, Pernetti will have one option.

Right now, things look bleak. Hill's best season is 11-20, and is overall record is 41-66 and the Scarlet Knights won nine Big East games in his three-plus seasons.

But the most damning part of the last week wasn't the late-game meltdown against Cincinnati, the embarrassment at West Virginia or the failure to show up defensively for the first half against Providence.

No, the most damaging part for Hill was the loss of a huge bargaining chip. No longer can he argue the program's growth is healthy with cornerstones Mike Rosario and Greg Echenique back for their third year's in the program.

Echenique's decision to transfer means Rutgers is looking at a 2010-11 season with little-used freshman Brian Okam and 6-foot-8 classmate Austin Johnson as the best options at center. In the MAAC that is fine. In the Big East that is brutal.

It also sends a message to other elite recruits about what is happening at Rutgers. If Echenique, a potential all-Big East center down the road, doesn't want to play there, why should another highly-regarded recruit?

By the fourth year of a basketball coach's tenure the team should be competitive in most of its conference games, should have an established point guard and be set in its style of play, with the coaching staff recruiting players to employ that style.

Rutgers, too often, has been lackadaisical defensively, and undisciplined offensively. And keep in mind Rutgers is floating the premise of a major donor-led renovation of the Rutgers Athletic Center, with ticket sales helping to pay the cost of the project.

In order for that to happen, donors are going to want to see progress in the basketball program and hope that a two decade-long NCAA Tournament drought is close to ending. Fans have already begun to stay away from the RAC, turning off one of the great home court advantages. Donors are not going to want the guise of another 10-win season. There's been too many of those already.

However, timing is everything. For Pernetti to announce a decision now about Hill's future would be poor timing.

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