Stanford has cut ties with Head Men’s Basketball Coach Johnny Dawkins. This is a necessary first step towards leading a buried program out into the light of day. That it comes at the expense of one of the classiest and cordial men I’ve ever met brings no joy to my heart, but it does bring hope for a program that matters far more to me than such things should.
I wrote three years ago that it was probably time for Stanford to move on from Coach Dawkins. Of course, Stanford’s whirlwind weekend in St. Louis in which the Cardinal won two NCAA Tournament games and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Even then, as ecstatic as I was to see Stanford advance to the tournament’s second weekend, I felt that it might not be to the long-term benefit of the program.
I’ve argued all year long that based on this year’s performance in isolation, there was not enough grounds to evaluate and dismiss Coach Dawkins. What sets fire to that straw man is that in looking at his eight year tenure, there is absolutely no justification for retaining him for a ninth. This year, injuries, inexperience, and the long overdue implementation of a new offense conspired to short circuit Stanford’s season despite the flashes of great talent and potential Stanford showed this season.
Ironically, it’s what Coach Dawkins was able to accomplish that makes the timing of this decision so important. Amidst all the frustration and before the Dumpster Fire Tour that was the last three games, Stanford claimed wins over teams that ended up as one, three, and four seeds (Oregon, Utah, and Cal) in this year’s NCAA tournament. The cupboard is not bare, not by a long shot. When you consider the challenges of recruiting to Stanford, that’s a much bigger deal then it would be at other schools.
Of course, Athletic Director Muir is not out of the woods, yet. Now comes the real challenge: Getting the right guy. Names are already flying around as potential candidates, and AD Muir has pledged to search “far and wide” for Stanford’s next Head Coach. We’ll be getting into this more and more as the week progresses, but here are the three names at the top of my list: Archie Miller, Bryce Drew, and Russell Turner.
Don’t read too much into the order of those names, but know this: this cannot be somebody’s first head coaching job. Stanford has an NCAA-Tournament roster right now and that has to be the expectation heading into 2016-17. Factor in that the Pac-12 is now full of quality coaches and the Cardinal needs a guy who can stand toe-to-toe with the Sean Millers, Dana Altmans, and Larry Krystkowiaks of the world.
Friday afternoon I scurried out of the MGM Grand on my way to a tour of the not yet finished T-Mobile Arena and as I did I saw Coach LeMere walking alone in the lobby. A colleague noted that Coach Schrage was also still in the building as late as Friday. Whether that means they had already been notified of their fates or not, it’s time to pause and appreciate what in my estimation was an outstanding staff of assistant coaches.
Coach Tim O’Toole was a fantastic add, Coach Schrage was an excellent recruiter and very well-regarded, and Coach LeMere was nothing but classy and helpful whenever I talked to him. Real people of class and substance are presumably departing Stanford, and we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that. All three (especially Schrage and O’Toole would be helpful ) will undoubtedly land spots on another team’s bench, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider retaining them if the incoming coach is receptive to it. This also includes Assistant Coach Charles Payne.
Ultimately, Stanford finally acknowledged the lack of results and all its unseemly manifestations, the biggest one being the descent of what was once the best atmosphere in the West for college basketball into a passionless hoops prison. A program that qualified for 13 of 14 NCAA Tournaments has made one of the last eight. It was well past the time for a change, and that change has come today.
Whether or not Stanford is just around the corner from the light of day remains to be seen, but they are a huge step closer than they were 24 hours ago.