I don't think Brookhart's dismissal was a surprise to most people in the know. A lot of the university's big donors have pushed for a change. A lot of fans, me included, also believed it was time to hold the coach accountable for four-straight disappointing years.
I want to commend Brookhart for the things he did here. He was a friendly person to me. Those who worked with him raved about his leadership and thoughtfulness.
Unfortunately, the nature of his profession is instability. If you buy a home, you cannot reasonably believe you'll be there more than 10 years. That goes double at Akron, because it's a stepping stone job for coaches without roots in the area. So you're either moving up or moving out. I don't think Brookhart would have hesitated to take on a head coaching job at a bigger college.
With that said, I know he turned down at least one NFL job as a position coach -- one that would provide a larger salary than Akron was paying. He had loyalty to Akron, and he gave all of his effort to try to turn the program into a winner.
We have heard a lot of excuses since 2006 of why the team wasn't where it needed to be. Most of them made sense, such as a lack of emphasis on special teams, lack of senior leadership or injuries. But how long must fans continue to ride that wave? They are, after all, paying money to see a good product.
The financial aspects of this arrangement are not ideal for the university. Brookhart has another year on his contract, but you can almost always make that argument. How often is it that a coach deserves to be fired only in the last year of his contract? Plus, could his staff really recruit a new class without being able to assure families that Brookhart -- upon whom the promise of a scholarship depends -- would be there past December 2010? I don't think so.
In the press conference, Tom Wistrcill says he has a long list of potential candidates. One question is what background you are looking for. Here are some options: 1) A successful head coach at a lower division. 2) A rising star coordinator at a BCS school. 3) A fired head coach from a BCS school. 4) An NFL assistant coach.
Take a look at the other successful coaches in the MAC. Turner Gill came to Buffalo from the Green Bay Packers, where he was a lower-level assistant. He also had experience coaching at Nebraska. Before coming to Central Michigan, Butch Jones was a rising star coordinator at West Virginia under Rich Rodriguez. Central Michigan was his alma mater, and Jones had been a coordinator there before. Al Golden was one of the nation's youngest coordinators at Virginia before Temple hired him. Then you have Frank Solich, who was the head coach at Nebraska, one of one of the nation's most prominent programs.
If you want to reel in a guy like Solich, Akron will have to increase the salary it is willing to pay. Many coordinators at big programs earn more than the $250,000 that Akron paid Brookhart. If you grab a successful coach from a lower division (the Mack Rhoades model), you might not have to increase the salary so much.
I will have more on this later, including quotes from Wistrcill's press conference. The GoZips.com press release has some quotes.
I was at the game last night, but my computer would not cooperate, so here are the notes.
The liveblog transcript...
My computer is being fixed at Best Buy. I have my backup with me tonight at the arena. Unfortunately, it is refusing to find a wireless network, so this I won’t be posting this minute-by-minute, but I’ll be writing the posts as they occur.
The Zips football team, of course, won its season finale today at InfoCision Stadium, beating Eastern Michigan 28-21. I’ll have thoughts about the game tomorrow.
Akron is the favorite to win the MAC. Despite that, it must have the youngest starting lineup in the league with one freshman (Zeke Marshall), three sophomores (Brett McClanahan, Humpty Hitchens, and Nik Cvetinovic) and one junior (Darryl Roberts).
During warm-ups, Arkansas-Pine Bluff showed its athleticism with a layup line consisting of alley-oops. This is definitely a fast-paced team. Its biggest problem this year has been the 20-percentage point disparity between the 3-point percentage that it shoots and the 3-point percentage it gives up.
The buzz in Rhodes Arena is noticeably different when Marshall is in the game. He gets double the ovation for a blocked shot than, say, Cvetinovic would. It reminds me of what ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons happens with Greg Oden at his home games in Portland. Fans are so floored at him making ordinary plays that, when Oden finally drops 30-20-and-8 on a team, the fans might flip over cars in the parking lot.
The McKnights and Mike Bardo subbed in at the 17:30 mark. Steve McNees followed them at 17:00. I was told to watch for McNees playing a lot of point guard, even when Hitchens is on the floor.
UAPB is getting just about whatever it wants on offense. The Golden Lions are shooting 53 percent. Akron is at 42 percent, with 7:21 left in the first half. UAPB leads 22-20.
The McKnights are in a funk. Brett McKnight has struggled with a back injury. He is tentative. Chris McKnight simply hasn’t been as active. Over the course of a season, players hit peaks and valleys. Most notably, I remember Cedrick Middleton suffering through an extended drought in his senior season.
Jimmy Conyers has been aggressive on two possessions and finished nicely off the backboard in traffic both times. In contrast to the McKnights, Conyers finds his groove a few games per season, then inevitably loses confidence.
Don’t look now, but Akron might have a bad foul-shooting team. The Zips have made only 2-of-6 tonight. On the season, the team is 53-94, which is 56 percent.
The AK-Rowdie turnout is sparse. In fact, I counted 14 of them. It’s Thanksgiving weekend, so I suppose there is an excuse there.
Bardo just volleyball-spiked a shot attempt. It got the crowd into the game. Both Bardo and Conyers have been uncharacteristically active on both ends. These two were in jeopardy of losing a place in Keith Dambrot’s rotation. They’re doing what they must to keep a role on the team.
Akron leads 31-28 with 1:19 left in the half. (I’m still searching for a way to get on the Internet.)
Hitchens is the only starter to start the second half. As I mentioned might happen, McNees is running the point. Regarding McNees, it’s clear he keeps his head up while running the offense. Hitchens is the better one-on-one player, but that doesn’t always translate into the team getting the best shot possible.
The uncertainty of Dambrot’s lineup is nothing new for this time of the season. And it may be the cause of some early season struggles. I think it also pays dividends in March to give the fringe players a shot to earn a spot, rather than just writing them off. That does two things. First, it breeds trust toward the coaches. Favoritism is a common complaint for players on any team – at any level. When Dambrot gives Conyers and Bardo minutes, for example, they will understand that it’s not personal if they’re not playing 20 minutes in the MAC Tournament. Second, it makes your team more apt to find a player who looks better in game situations than in practice.
With nine minutes to play, we still haven’t seen Marshall off the bench this half.
This is a hum-drum boring game. I can’t put a finger on why. The Zips have slowly extended their lead to 13 at 58-45 with 7:53 to play.
I think the Zips need to establish a rhythm for the McKnight brothers heading into Sunday’s game against Niagara.
UAPB forced Akron into a 10-second violation in the backcourt. This game is feeling a lot like the loss to Austin Peay two weeks ago. The Zips have a comfortable lead of 10 with 6:30 to play, but they are not sharp. They are sleepwalking through the time when a serious contender is putting his size-13s on the opponent’s throat.
Back to the McKnights. This is Chris’ fourth year in Dambrot’s program. He knows the plays. He’s been indoctrinated. Akron should be getting more out of such a player. I think that will happen, but it’s helpful to put McKnight’s lack of production in that context.
That 13-point lead has shrunk to three with 4:12 to play (62-59).
The Zips are now 11-for-19 from the free-throw line. UAPB is 17-for-21. But for this discrepancy, this game wouldn’t be in very much jeopardy.
The officials made a bad call on a loose ball, saying the ball when off Chris McKnight, rather than the two UAPB players who clearly forced it out. On the next possession, UAPB executed an alley-oop. The Golden Lions trapped Akron on the next possession and forced a jump ball. Akron got the ball back with a one-point lead and two minutes left.
The Zips are getting VERY sloppy on offense. They made four passes that were tipped. Hitchens, in particular, is struggling to find composure. He just fired a pass toward an unexpecting Roberts, and the ball went back to UAPB, who took the lead with a couple free throws.
Brett McKnight made a nice interior pass to Cvetinovic, who retook the lead for Akron with an easy layup. It’s UAPB ball with 17 seconds left.
Back in the day, this was a place where opponents didn’t win. It was simple. A top-25 team like Nevada could come here, and Akron fans would be certain the Zips will prevail. Rhodes Arena was a HUGE advantage. I don’t know what happened to that. Was it the departure of Romeo and Dru?
After a missed runner in the lane, the ball got lodged in the side of the rim. The jump ball went back to UAPB. Seven seconds left. UAPB missed another runner. The loose ball went out of bounds, off a Golden Lion.
Akron only needs to inbound to win.
Hitchens is making a big mistake. He let a UAPB player get under his skin. Hitchens shoved him before the inbounds pass. A referee could have called a technical foul. The player and Hitchens tangled again, and it created a little skirmish. The ref called a foul on UAPB for it. Hitchens made both foul shots, stole the inbound pass and chucked up a 3 as time expired. Akron wins.
Hitchens ran immediately ran toward UAPB’s bench to say something. It caused a brief shoving match. Tom Wistrcill and Dambrot intervened. Hitchens’ behavior appeared foolish. A technical could have spoiled the game. I don’t know whether he was trying to rub it in, or whether he wanted to shake hands before anyone else did. It sure looked like he was being a poor winner, but I don’t know what’s going on for sure.
Final score: Akron 68, UAPB 65
Final stats of note: The difference in the game tonight was UAPB’s 17 turnovers, compared to Akron’s 10. The Zips scored 18 points off turnovers, while the Golden Lions scored 12. Chris McKnight was 1-for-5 from the field. No Zip tallied more than four rebounds. Cvetinovic led Akron with 12 points. Savalance Townsend led UAPB with 15 points. Lebaron Weathers had seven rebounds.
UAPB coach George Ivory:
“We think it’s a good test to hit the road and play some good competition. We think that it is going to help out very much in the conference.”
“I don’t know if he [Hitchens] was coming to shake hands. I don’t think there was trying to be no fight. It wasn’t as bad as it looked. Both teams played hard. When it gets heated like that, it’s because of the competition. It was good competition. That’s all it was.”
“Akron is a great basketball team with great fans. It was good to play against a team with that kind of composure.”
“We went to a 2-2-1 halfcourt press, and that’s when we went on a run at the end. They went down low and got a basket. That’s what it’s all about. We’ll learn from our mistakes. Learn how to prevent a shot like that.”
“It’s the first time we’ve played a complete game. Most teams we’ve played, we outrebound. We’re playing pretty good. When you play quality competition, it makes a difference. We thought Akron would be a team that will help us see what we need to work on.”
Akron coach Dambrot:
“It’s something you have to have amnesia in sports sometimes. It’s sort of like a closer who gets popped, then gets popped again, and soon he has no belief structure. That game was an exact replica in Austin Peay in a lot of ways. Instead of being up 18, 15, 20, we’re up 10 and 12, and we never put them away. Then we got jittery. We got scared, nervous.”
“We’ve got guys who’ve been in two NITs and an NCAA and we’re getting jittery? At some point, we have to man up. We’re squirting a pass over here, squirting a pass over there. It was unbelievable. I told them I can’t fix that. That may sound a little harsh, but I think it’s the truth. We had them on the ropes and didn’t put them away.”
“We played a good four or five minutes to start the half. Then we didn’t guard. They out-athleted us. Then we got jittery.”
“We’ve got three guards who have all played in big games. I thought McClanahan was fair. I thought Jimmy was good.”
“We can’t get Chris to play. When you get three points and two rebounds from Chris McKnight, I don’t know what to say.”
“I told Humpty, we’ll never win until he’s as consistent as Dru Joyce, Dials and Middleton. He’s more talented, but until he’s more consistent, he’ll have his ups and downs.”
“Regardless of what happened at the end, it’s a really immature play on his part. I don’t care if the guy hits him in he mouth, you gotta walk away. The fight part of it is not worth losing the game over If I have a chance to get a technical foul with 2 seconds left, it’s a bad play. You’re going to win the game, that’s enough. If you want to fight in the end, why don’t you want to fight in the middle. All the sudden, now we’re tough guys. At the end, he was trying to make amends.”
“If that’s the case, show mental toughness and don’t turn the ball over when it matters. Am I being critical? I don’t think so. They’re my guys, so I’m criticizing myself, really.”
“When you play all of your games on the road, they would be a good team.”
“That’s hard on those [UAPB] kids. They’re taking a hit for their athletic department. They’re making a lot of money. I knew it was going to be a good game. Their big guy is good. Their point guard is good.”
“Do we have issues? Damn right we have issues.”
“I thought we started the game awful again. That shows signs of jitteryness. Mount Union. Cleveland State. Howard. We have not gotten out of the box yet.”
On Marshall not playing in the second half: “I felt like we were going to go with our older guys. They were physical. We probably needed to play him.”