Tony Barbee's rough tenure ended earlier this season
Sometimes a coach inherits a bad team or steps into a program where the university simply does not invest in basketball. In some cases, through recruiting, Xs and Os and inspiration, that coach can turn a bad team into a good or even great one.
The guys on this list are not those coaches. Here are the 20 worst coaching tenures in the six major conference since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985.
Worst Coaching Tenures in Major Conferences since 1985
1. Dave Bliss, Baylor
Record: 61-57, 19-45 Big 12
Before his undoing at Baylor, Bliss took three teams to the NCAA Tournament (Oklahoma, SMU and New Mexico), but his downfall at Baylor remains one of college athletics biggest disgraces. One player, Carlton Dotson, pleaded guilty to murdering teammate Patrick Dennehy in 2003, and Bliss' actions in the aftermath did not help an already tragic situation. Bliss was found to have paid part of Dennehy’s tuition and that of another player (both NCAA violations), and then asked an assistant and players to lie to investigators about the payment, saying Dennehy had been dealing drugs. That, among other NCAA and recruiting violations put Baylor under harsh sanctions through 2010. On the court, Baylor had one winning season and never finished better than 6-10 in the Big 12.
2. Bob Wade, Maryland
Record: 36-50, 7-35 ACC
Wade took over after the drug-related death of All-American Len Bias, who had just been drafted second overall by the Boston Celtics. With an academic scandal at the end of coach Lefty Driesell’s tenure as well, Wade did not take over in College Park under ideal circumstance when he was hired from the high school ranks from Baltimore Dunbar. After three seasons, including two where Maryland went 0-16 and 1-14 in the ACC, Wade resigned amid his own allegations of NCAA violations. He was replaced by Gary Williams, who resuscitated the program and won 461 games with the Terps.
3. Bob Staak, Wake Forest
Record: 45-69, 8-48 ACC
Staak took over for Paul Tacy, who had reached the postseason in five consecutive years (three pre-expansion NCAAs, two NITs) before Staak arrived. The former Xavier coach and Connecticut player went 8-21 and winless in the ACC in his first season and never won more than three conference games during his four years at Wake. He resigned amid an NCAA inquiry into recruiting violations and was replaced by Dave Odom, who would lead the Demon Deacons to their most successful era in the 1990s and early 2000s.
4. Bill Foster, Northwestern
Record: 54-141, 13-113 Big Ten
The only program from a major conference not to have reached the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern has had its share of futile coaching tenures. Foster’s, though, was the worst. The Wildcats finished in last place in six of his seven seasons, went 2-16 in the Big Ten five times and winless once. His successor, the late Ricky Byrdsong, reached the NIT in his first season with Northwestern. And interesting footnote: Foster also preceded Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
5. Paul Graham, Washington State
Record: 31-79, 9-63 Pac-10
The Cougars aren’t known for their basketball success, but before Graham, Washington State built a solid program under Kelvin Sampson and reached the NIT under Kevin Eastman. After Graham, Dick Bennett and son Tony Bennett built Washington State into an NCAA Tournament team. A rash of play departures also didn’t help Graham’s short-lived tenure at Wazzu.
6. Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest
Record: 51-76, 17-51 ACC
Bzdelik has coached in the NBA and took Air Force to the NCAA Tournament in 2006, so it’s a mystery why Bzdelik has had such meager results at a program that has been a consistent power in the ACC. The Demon Deacons have had their share of player departures, due to transfers and off-court issues, so those are possible reasons. His tenure has had fans screaming for Wake to replace him, but the athletic department must see improvement: Bzdelik had twice as many ACC wins in his third and fourth seasons (12) than he did in his first two combined (five).
7. Sidney Lowe, NC State
Record: 86-78, 25-55 ACC
Hopes were high that Lowe, a former NC State player and longtime NBA assistant, would help the Wolfpack take the next step after an unspectacular run under Herb Sendek. As NC State learned, things weren’t so bad under Sendek, who reached the NCAA Tournament in each of his last five seasons in Raleigh. Lowe recruited well, but the results didn’t come on the court as NC State never won more than six ACC games in a season and finished ninth or lower each year. Successor Mark Gottfried, however, took advantage of the influx of talent under Lowe with a Sweet 16 appearance in his first season.
8. Melvin Watkins, Texas A&M
Record: 60-112, 21-75 Big 12
Watkins’ predecessor, Tony Barone, also was a candidate for this list, which says something about the Aggies’ basketball program in the ‘90s. Watkins, though, capped his tenure in College Station with a winless Big 12 season and a 7-21 overall record. The Aggies won 10 or fewer games three times in his six seasons. If there was a silver lining, Watkins did bring Acie Law and Antoine Wright to Texas A&M. Under Law and Gillispie, Texas A&M reached the NIT in 2005 and the Sweet 16 in 2007.
9. Brian Mahoney, St. John’s
Record: 56-58, 29-43 Big East
After the departure of the program’s most successful coach, St. John’s promoted assistant Brian Mahoney to replace Lou Carnesecca, but Mahoney turned out to be the first coach in a line of four who weren’t able to restore St. John’s to the glory days. Mahoney reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season, but reached only one NIT in the three seasons thereafter. Mahoney went 17-37 in the Big East.
10. Matt Doherty, North Carolina
Record: 53-43, 23-25 ACC
Doherty played for Dean Smith at North Carolina and was a teammate of Michael Jordan’s. Those were better days for the Tar Heels. Doherty went 26-7 and 13-3 in the ACC in his first season taking over for Bill Guthridge, but he went 27-36 and 10-22 in conference the following two seasons. During his short-lived tenure, Doherty clashed with Guthridge and Smith by replacing longtime assistants and ran off players with his abrasive style. In North Carolina’s second attempt to pursue Roy Williams, the Tar Heels landed him to replace Doherty in 2003. With some of Doherty’s recruits, Williams won a national title in 2005.
11. Eddie Payne, Oregon State
Record: 50-90, 20-70 Pac-10
Since the retirement of Ralph Miller in 1989 until the hire of current coach Craig Robinson, none of the coaches in Corvallis had distinguished tenures. Payne’s best season was 7-11 in the Pac-10, but the Beavers went 3-15 in conference or worse in three of his five seasons.
12. Billy Gillispie, Kentucky
Record: 40-27, 20-12 SEC
Hopes were high for Texas A&M’s Gillispie he took over for Tubby Smith, a national title coach who never wowed the Kentucky fan base. A first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Marquette followed by an NIT ended his tenure in Lexington after only two seasons.
13. Ken Bone, Washington State
Record: 80-86, 29-62 Pac-12
Washington State is perhaps the toughest basketball job in the Pac-12, but Bone started off with two things in his favor: Tony Bennett had just wrapped up a successful tenure that included a Sweet 16 appearance, and he had eventual NBA Draft lottery pick Klay Thompson on the roster. The Cougars topped out at the NIT with Bone and Thompson, and bottomed out to 7-29 in the league in Bone's final two seasons.
14. Larry Shyatt, Clemson
Record: 70-84, 20-60 ACC
Shyatt took over after a successful run under Rick Barnes and was replaced by Oliver Purnell, who remade the Tigers into a postseason contender. In between, Shyatt had only two winning seasons and never finished better than 5-11 in the ACC.
15. Jerry Wainwright, DePaul
Record: 59-80, 20-51 Big East
DePaul clearly was not ready to be competitive in the Big East and had long since fallen behind in recruiting the Chicago area. An Illinois native, Wainwright couldn’t help matters. He was fired midway through the 2009-10 season amid a stretch in which DePaul went 1-35 in Big East games.
16. Fred Hill, Rutgers
Record: 47-77, 13-57 Big East
Like Jerry Wainwright and DePaul, Rutgers hoped Hill’s local ties would help revive a moribund Big East program. Hill signed McDonald's All-American Mike Rosario (who later transferred to Florida), but he never won more than five Big East games in four losing seasons at Rutgers. Hill caused further problems for his program when he got into a shouting match with the Pittsburgh baseball coach after a game between the two schools (Hill’s father is the Rutgers baseball coach). Hill disobeyed his athletic director by attending later games in the series, a development that played a role in his ouster.
17. Tony Barbee, Auburn
Record: 49-75, 18-50 SEC
Barbee arrived at Auburn after going 16-1 in Conference USA in his final season at UTEP. As a John Calipari assistant at Memphis, Barbee was expected to up the level of talent at Auburn just as facilities began to improve. That never materialized as Auburn was one of the worst teams in the SEC during his four seasons. Auburn's a tough job, but the Barbee and the Tigers were the clear bottom feeder in a league in decline.
18. Jeff Bzdelik, Colorado
Record: 36-58, 10-38 Big 12
Bzdelik makes his second appearance on the list. Again, he won at Air Force and coached in the NBA, but he couldn’t manage a winning season at Colorado. Successor Tad Boyle, meanwhile, took over to lead the Buffaloes to back-to-back postseason appearances.
19. Todd Lickliter, Iowa
Record: 38-57, 15-39
Perhaps a cautionary sign for Brad Stevens that the grass isn’t always greener. Lickliter left Butler after a Sweet 16 appearance for a failed tenure with the Hawkeyes. Iowa was a postseason regular under four coaches since the late ‘70s, but the Hawkeyes finished eighth or lower in the Big Ten each season under Lickliter.
20. Ricky Stokes, Virginia Tech
Record: 29-55, 10-38 Big East
The above record does not include Stokes’ first season when the Hokies were a member of the Atlantic 10, which was also his only winning season (16-15) in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech was already struggling before joining the Big East as a basketball member in 2000, so the Hokies’ first three seasons in the league were no big surprise.