Andrew Pang - Inside the Spartans

Commentary: On Wojcik's future

As Dave Wojcik enters the tail end of his contract, his future as San Jose State men's basketball head coach depends on how the team finishes the season.

Dave Wojcik has weathered some tough conditions in three and a half seasons as San Jose State men’s basketball head coach. Wojcik experienced frequent losses and roster turnover in his first two seasons, partially due to circumstances beyond his control. As he approaches the end of his five-year contract, his future as head coach hinges on the final results of this season.

Last year, San Jose State athletic director Gene Bleymaier fired two head coaches, Ron Caragher for football and Dave Nakama for baseball. Both coaches had losing cumulative records in four years, and their teams showed little or no improvement in performance. Based on these decisions, expect Wojcik to be on the proverbial hot seat as well.

How did San Jose State basketball get to this point? Here is a timeline of the past four years:

  • Mar. 13, 2013: Bleymaier, hired as athletic director in May 2012, fires George Nessman, who went 86-161 in eight seasons. Nessman had one year remaining on his contract, due to a three-year extension awarded in 2011 by then-athletic director Tom Bowen after a CBI appearance. However, San Jose State won only 18 games, including four in WAC play, in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.
  • Mar. 30, 2013: Bleymaier hires Dave Wojcik, a third-year assistant coach at Boise State. They worked together from 2010 to 2011, as Bleymaier was then athletic director at Boise State.  Wojcik inherited only four returning players due to several others “not invited back,” according to Bleymaier.
  • Nov. 4, 2013: In Wojcik’s debut, San Jose State loses an exhibition 78-69 against Division II opponent Cal State Monterey Bay. Wojcik comments in the post-game, “You’re either a player, or you’re not a player, and you either make plays, or you don’t.”
  • Dec. 28, 2013: San Jose State wraps up non-conference play 6-6 after beating Pacifica College 87-59 in its first four-game winning streak since 2011. In three of the wins, over Pepperdine, Houston, and UC Davis, San Jose State rallied from deficits of 14 or more.
  • Mar. 12, 2014: Wojcik’s first season ends with an 82-53 loss to Boise State in the first round of the MW Tournament and a 7-24 (1-17 MW) record. The only conference win was on Feb. 18, 66-64 at Nevada. Following the season, Dylan Alexander and D.J. Brown transfer, and Mike VanKirk leaves the team.
  • Apr. 1, 2014: Due to a four-year Academic Progress Rate (APR) below 930 (out of 1,000) going up to Nessman’s final season, the NCAA issues a postseason ban and reduced practice time for San Jose State.
  • Dec. 13, 2014: After a 2-8 start, Wojcik suspends five players for violating team rules: Jordan Baker, Rashad Muhammad, Matt Pollard, Frank Rogers, and Jaleel Williams. Except for Pollard, these players led the team in scoring. These suspensions, on top of season-ending injuries to Leon Bahner, Jalen James, and Devante Wilson, reduced San Jose State to four scholarship players and two walk-ons. Wojcik signed football players Andrew Vollert and Tyler Winston to the roster temporarily.
  • Jan. 11, 2015: Wojcik dismisses Baker and Rogers and reinstates Muhammad and Williams. Pollard, Vollert, and Winston leave the program. By now, San Jose State is 2-14 (0-4 MW) after a 74-40 loss at UNLV.
  • Mar. 7, 2015: After a 71-58 home loss to UNLV, San Jose State finishes 2-28 (0-18 MW), the worst record since the 2-24 season in 1991-92.
  • May 11, 2015: Darryl Gaynor transfers to a junior college after his freshman season. (He is now with Division II Southern Nazarene.) Later, Muhammad transfers to the University of Miami, and Wilson leaves the program.
  • May 26, 2015: The NCAA lifts sanctions due to San Jose State’s APR improving to 934.
  • Sept. 2015: Wojcik reinstates Rogers to the team heading into his senior season.
  • Nov. 16, 2015: San Jose State beats Montana 67-64 for its first win over a Division I opponent since 2013-14.
  • Jan. 13, 2016: In its first conference win also since 2013-14, San Jose State beats Wyoming 62-55.
  • Mar. 8, 2016: Freshman guard Brandon Clarke became the first freshman to win the MW Sixth Man of the Year Award.
  • Mar. 9, 2016: San Jose State loses 80-61 to Colorado State in the first round of the MW Tournament and ends the season 9-22 (4-14 MW), the best finish in the Wojcik era.
  • Spring/summer 2016: Bahner and Danny Mahoney leave the program, which makes eight players from Wojcik’s 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes who left San Jose State without completing their eligibility. However, all six of Wojcik’s recruits from the 2015 signing class return for the 2016-17 season.
  • Dec. 21, 2016: After beating Southern Utah 92-82, San Jose State wrapped up non-conference play 7-4, the best start in six years.

As things stand now, San Jose State is 8-7 (1-3 MW) after losing at San Diego State on Tuesday, 76-61. Saturday's 69-62 win over Fresno State marks the quickest in the Wojcik era that San Jose State got its first conference win and to eight wins overall. There are still 14 games left in conference play in addition to the conference championship tournament, and anything can happen.

The case for Wojcik remaining will be best made if the team shows significant improvement in conference play and APR, something that appears realistic due to the two scholarship seniors on the 2015-16 team graduating and the return of all of Wojcik’s 2015 recruits.

The question remains: how should long Bleymaier extend Wojcik? It is reasonable to assume, based on his new five-year contract for women’s basketball head coach Jamie Craighead, that Bleymaier prefers long-term contract extensions. Craighead’s contract extension followed an 11-7 conference record and consistently improving conference records. It may seem unrealistic this season to expect even nine conference wins for men's basketball, but a friend of mine who has observed the program for nearly three decades has suggested that Wojcik needs five to seven years to create a winning culture. So far in year four, Wojcik seems to be going in that direction.

However, should Bleymaier decide to give Wojcik a short (think two- or three-year) extension this year, the cons will outweigh the pros. Although a shorter extension would make a buyout less costly in case of an under-performing season, it would more prominently show a lack of confidence in Wojcik and indecisiveness from Bleymaier. When recruits see that Wojcik might not be their coach for four years, they will seek other programs that have stronger coaching stability. Even worse, a short-term extension would make it less expensive for other schools to hire Wojcik away, should he have a breakout season and attract larger schools’ job offers. Thus, the only two options after Wojcik's fourth season are either dismissal or a long-term extension. Both decisions require thoughtful, measured decision-making.

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