The coaching pedigree for SEC basketball has steadily improved year by year.
Kermit Davis won SEC Coach of the Year in his first year at Ole Miss, Mike White and Bruce Pearl led their teams to NCAA Tournament wins yesterday, and the job Rick Barnes has done at Tennessee is nothing short of magnificent.
This has led to the improvement of the quality of the league as whole and not just the teams themselves, proven by a record eight SEC teams making the 2018 NCAA Tournament and 7 teams in 2019’s Big Dance (SEC teams won all 4 of their games yesterday).
With the kind of basketball expectations within this conference now, coaches are on a much shorter leash to bring success to their programs quickly, especially come March.
Billy Kennedy has already been fired at Texas A&M, and now, two others will soon be joining him on the coaching market.
Bryce Drew has been fired by the Vanderbilt Commodores, and Avery Johnson is working on a buyout to leave the Alabama Crimson Tide.
You have to feel for Bryce Drew, at least to a degree. He brought in one of the best recruiting classes in Commodore history with hometown NBA prospect Darius Garland running the point, but everything unraveled following a meniscus injury suffered by Garland against Kent State, which led him to withdraw from the university to prepare for the NBA Draft.
After starting 4-0 before his injury, the Commodores finished their non-conference schedule 5-3. From there, they went on to write the worst kind of history as they posted the first winless record in the SEC in 65 years and went on the program’s longest losing streak in history at 20 games. Vanderbilt has yet to win a game in the year 2019, but they will have to wait until next season with a new coach to get one.
It’s hard to meet expectations when you lose a projected lottery pick like Garland, but to not win a single game with some of the talent on that roster shows a lack of adjustment and fight which should never have to be justified. Drew finishes his career at Vanderbilt with a 40-59 record with one tournament appearance in three years.
In Avery Johnson’s case, the Crimson Tide weren’t bad. They were just average, which is almost worse and certainly not good enough with the talent they have had. In Johnson’s four seasons in Tuscaloosa, they won between 18-20 games and lost either 15 or 16 games in each season, which totaled to just an overall 0.547 winning percentage.
Johnson was able to bring in great recruits like Collin Sexton, John Petty and Kira Lewis Jr., but to post basically the same record for four straight years and only earn an NCAA bid in one of them is just not going to cut it. It certainly didn’t help his case to lose in the first round of the NIT to Norfolk State. Avery Johnson didn’t do a bad job, but average is just no longer enough.
It says a lot about the quality of SEC basketball for these two men to be out of a job. Avery Johnson, who wanted to stay at Alabama for the foreseeable future, was under contract until 2022-2023 and Bryce Drew had three years left on his deal as well. That’s six seasons worth of contracts that won’t be fulfilled by good coaches because these programs want better and have even higher expectations.
Vanderbilt will begin an immediate search for their next head coach and once Johnson and Alabama finish their buyout, the Crimson Tide will likely do the same.