College coaching carousel ground to halt amid coronavirus concerns: 'There's nothing that's for sure'

The tweet from Wake Forest athletic director John Currie dropped at 7:16 p.m. on Tuesday. It was a retweet of Wake Forest’s main twitter account announcing that a Wake Forest student currently isolated in a residence hall had tested positive for coronavirus.

Currie’s response was typical of these times. He encouraged university leaders to keep leading. He pleaded for social distancing, which he hoped could lead to a return to normalcy so sports can entertain us all again.

The tweet also unintentionally summed up one of the most distinct trends in college athletics to emerge from this most unusual time, and perhaps forecasts a sign of things to come in the future. Currie had been among the athletic directors in college sports expected to make a college basketball coaching change during this cycle. But at a time when there’s so much uncertainty on college campuses, the typical whirl of coaching movement this time of year has slowed exponentially as schools address more pressing issues.

There have been zero coaches fired from the top seven basketball leagues – the traditional Power Five plus the Big East and AAC. Overall, there have been 20 job changes among the 353 Division I basketball programs, many of which were executed at the end of the regular season before coronavirus entered the American vernacular. These are drastically lower than normal, as 13 jobs opened in the top seven conferences last year and more than 50 overall jobs in each of the past two seasons.

“I don’t think we were headed toward a huge year, but we weren’t expecting this,” an industry source told Yahoo Sports. “I think it’s a confluence of events. It was a year we were going to be slow in the first place. Now we have a national disaster like none of us have never seen before.”

Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning leaves the court after the team lost to North Carolina in an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)
Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning leaves the court after the team lost to North Carolina in an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

Indicative of the thin market is where the top names landed – Bryce Drew at Grand Canyon, Rick Pitino at Iona and Andy Kennedy at UAB. More than half of the 20 open jobs have been filled, with places like Western Michigan and Air Force still attempting to finalize their future coach at a time where the coach may not be able to meet his team for months. (Or, perhaps, even visit the school he’s choosing in the near future.)

By the time basketball is scheduled to start again in October, there could be more openings. There are still potential reverberations from the federal basketball investigation. Plus, an athletic director like Currie, who hasn’t said anything publicly on the fate of coach Danny Manning, could still make a decision if normalcy somehow returns the next few months. That looks more unlikely with each passing newscycle.

With campuses empty and schools facing revenue decreases and more pressing issues, athletic directors are also increasingly worried about an abbreviated fall football schedule. Combine that with a projected precipitous drop in donor money washed out in the stock market and this could portend a pared back spending future on the college landscape. (A buyout like Manning’s, which is north of $15 million for Wake to pay off, looks even more daunting now.)

One Power Five athletic director described it this way to Yahoo Sports on Wednesday: “There’s nothing that’s for sure. There’s nothing you can count on. When you do make a decision to fire a coach, you usually have the finances and buyouts worked out. You have a range ready to give to the new coach and increase in budget for the staff. All of that is thrown into question when you don’t know for sure if your football season is going to be impacted.”

The athletic director continued, hinting at the financial devastation that could come with the loss of some or all football in the fall. “The NCAA tournament money is small potatoes compared to an alteration of the football schedule. For example, if you had to go from 12 to 10 games. The elephant in the room is that we don’t know about football.”

The prospect of limited or no football would bring radical changes to athletic departments. But the dominoes have already begun to fall in the collegiate environment. That includes 2020 being remembered as the year that the coronavirus ground the coaching carousel to a halt.

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