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Big Ten Basketball Coach Hot Seats

Could we see all 14 head coaches return for next season?

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Last week we talked about potential Big Ten coach of the year winners, which makes this week time to talk about the coaches on the hot - or just mildly warm - seat. There aren’t any for sure candidates in our bunch of fourteen head coaches to get fired, but there are some guys that fanbases are turning on or that an adventurous athletic director could move on from. Let’s take a look.

Year 4 and Progress is Occurring but Slow

Nebraska Cornhuskers HC Fred Hoiberg

Overall record: 37-81 (13-14 this season)

B1G record: 15-60 (6-10 this season)

Nebraska v Rutgers
Seriously? I’m making progress. How can you put me on this list?
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: Fred escaped a poor first three years at Nebraska as the athletic department was struggling from losing money due to COVID and the impending need to make a change in their football program. In year 4, Hoiberg is finally flirting with a .500 overall record but when we look at the record across four years it is difficult to have too much optimism that Hoiberg is going to truly get Nebraska basketball rolling. 37-81 is 37-81 and at some point you are your record.

There are however some things in Hoiberg’s favor and reasons to think he will be back next season. Despite season ending injuries to starters Emmanuel Bandoumel and Juwan Gary, Nebraska is playing solid basketball of late and has won three of their last four to reach six conference wins. And since Nebraska spent an extra $15 million to remove Scott Frost two weeks early (plus the rest of his buyout and Matt Rhule’s salary), there aren’t exactly a bunch of extra dollars just laying around. Combine that with solid basketball attendance at PBA this season, fans having a positive opinion or Hoiberg, and a very real (if small) improvement this season and you can spin this positively pretty easily.

As long as Nebraska doesn’t lose to Minnesota at home, I think Hoiberg will be safe. Near the beginning of the Big Ten season, I thought he needed to get to 7 or 8 conference wins to return for a year 5. He’s just one win away from doing that after losing two starters for the season.

BRT: I am certainly not “in the know” on this, so many grains of salt are needed, but I think he’s probably alright. He seems to be well-liked by most, and he doesn’t have a polarizing personality. More importantly, the home performances have mostly been quite good— and while I haven’t been to PBA since late December, my impression is that attendance is pretty strong. The team competes hard and doesn’t quit on him, which is a good sign. As you said, losing out might change this calculus, but a finish with a couple wins out of the final four and I think he’s alright— especially given the magnitude of the injury losses.

No one cares about my opinion, but I’d like to see him stay. They’re fun to watch and play hard, and I’m not sure who would be an upgrade right now. Nebrasketball is a tough job— and not one lots of people could be successful at. Will Hoiberg? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t can him this year if it were me.

Maybe the Huskers will end the season 4-0 and this will all sound very silly. A girl can dream, right? :)

Jesse: Trev Alberts has seemingly given some nods towards wanting to keep him. There’s definitely actual signs of improvements IN THE FACE of injuries to 3 of his starters (and Walker was out for a lot of time too). I think that barring a complete meltdown where he loses all good will at the end of the season (see: losing to Minnesota AND losing out), I think you bring him back. His coaching changes have obviously spurred some better strategy and showed he can evolve and scheme still. And like you said, losing a lot of money on the Frost buyout (especially while we’re trying to save money for once), I think you almost HAVE to keep him if the fans will keep coming.

My point is, unless there’s some fairly cheap option waiting in the wings who is going to bring instant credibility, be a massive upgrade, and somehow cajole boosters to spend money on paying another outgoing coach, you just roll with it and re-evaluate next season. It’s kicking the can, but that’s sort of where we’re at right now.

Football Schools Have Others Things to Care About

Ohio State Buckeyes HC Chris Holtmann

Overall record: 118-70 (11-14 this season)

B1G record: 61-61 (3-11 this season)

Northwestern v Ohio State
Awww shucks
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: Look, personally I’ve never thought much of Chris Holtmann as a head basketball coach. There is a reason he got the Tom Izzo vote of confidence this week (previous receivers of this prestigious vote of confidence include Bruce Weber and Bill Carmody). He’s never won a conference championship in his 11 previous seasons as a head coach (3 at Gardner-Webb, 3 at Butler, 5 at Ohio State). Holtmann has also never made a Sweet 16 at Ohio State despite plenty of talent.

But this is year 6, he’s made the tournament each of the first five seasons and has his best recruiting class coming in next season (the four man class is ranked 6th nationally and includes three top 50 players). So long story short, I fully expect him to get another attempt next year.

If Ohio State fails to score 15 points in the first half in each remaining game like they did against Michigan State, then all bets are off. Assuming that doesn’t happen, Holtmann should be able to run it back next year with a bunch of new pieces - both the freshman and some new transfers to replace outgoing seniors, NBA draft pick Sensabaugh, and probably some transfers out.

Green Akers: The problem at this point is his level of retention and development is, like, Hoibergian. Just look at these classes since he’s been fully sewn into the recruiting process.

DJ Carton - transferred quickly in kind of unique circumstances
EJ Liddell - big hit, probably best player of the Holtmann era
Alonzo Gaffney - never more than a role player, transferred
Ibrahima Diallo - ditto but did even less
Justice Sueing - success, even considering multiple injuries

Meechie Johnson - showed a bit of promise but left quickly
Eugene Brown III - fringe rotation player for the most part
Zed Key - a decent big
Abel Porter - nonfactor
Seth Towns - ditto, albeit with injuries

Malaki Branham - one and done, but sure didn’t help them win much
Kalen Etzler - nonfactor so far
Joey Brunk - hurt too much to contribute
Jamari Wheeler - decent rental plug-in PG

BoilerUp89: To be clear, I do think Holtmann is a dead man walking. It’s just that his walk doesn’t end until next season.

Green Akers: You’re probably right unless they lose out or something.

But if Sensabaugh goes pro, you need massive sophomore jumps from all of Thornton, Okpara and Gayle, and for at least a couple of next year’s guys to be ready to rock immediately, AND can’t miss again on the couple of transfers he’ll probably take.

Weirder things have happened btw, I do like Thornton a lot.

MaximumSam: I don’t get the sense that Holtmann is on the hot seat, at least not this year. The locals are grumbling, which counts for something, but basketball doesn’t really move the needle in Columbus and Gene Smith probably isn’t looking for extra money to spend while the athletic department figures out this whole NIL stuff. It’s a big offseason, though. It’s easy for players to flee bad situations and if all the freshmen leave then the writing is one the wall. If they stay, the Buckeyes have a pretty decent squad coming back.

I don’t think talent identification has been an issue. Branham and Sensabaugh were hardly on NBA radars until they got to Columbus. He’s had a bit of an issue with point guards - D.J. Carton was definitely a weird case, and Meechie Johnson wasn’t very good. But Thornton looks like a player.

The main issue to me is that the defense is pretty rough, and has been for the third consecutive season. It’s weird, because he carries on about defense and they were pretty good his first few seasons. But if you can’t play defense you can’t really do much and they haven’t done it. You can find a reason every year - 2021 they played a lot of small ball, 2022 everyone was hurt. 2023, they play four freshmen. But the years add up to a trend and if it doesn’t turn around there is a pretty hard ceiling. The Iowa ceiling.

Michigan Wolverines HC Juwan Howard

Overall record: 75-44 (14-12 this season)

B1G record: 43-29 (8-7 this season), 1 Big Ten championship

Maryland v Michigan
Hold me back!
Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: Nobody in the conference likes Juwan. He’s got major anger issues and is generally disliked by just about everyone, including much of his own fanbase. But in his first three seasons he still has the most NCAA tournament success out of any Big Ten coach and he’s just two seasons removed from - WARNING FOR ILLINI FANS - winning the Big Ten regular season.

As poorly as Michigan has played this season and as unprepared as his team as looked at times, its important to remember that Howard has five freshman in the rotation and his starting point guard for the season played just 8 games before suffering a season ending injury. That probably isn’t enough to get him fired this season by a fanbase that cares about basketball - and Michigan isn’t a fanbase that cares about basketball. Juwan should be safe unless he has another punching incident. So let’s call it 50/50.

Green Akers: Juwan should be [safe]

MaximumSam: Seems really unlikely Howard would get canned, but the offseason is big for him. Kobe Bufkin and Jett Howard are getting NBA attention, and Hunter Dickinson seems a little checked out of the college game. All three could leave, or stay. That could make for a pretty interesting dinner conversation in the Howard household.

Why not?

Wisconsin Badgers HC Greg Gard

Overall record: 158-88 (14-10 this season)

B1G record: 90-58 (6-8 this season), 2 Big Ten championships

Northwestern v Wisconsin
This is the gratitude I get for winning the conference last year?
Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: Parts of the Wisconsin fanbase are grumbling and think the Badgers AD should follow the footprint they laid out for the football program with Greg Gard. Gard is a boring head coach that has had some success but isn’t lighting up the recruiting trail. Some want to Wisconsin to hire the basketball version of their Luke Fickell.

That’s incredibly dumb. Gard isn’t as good as Bo Ryan, but it’s unfair to hold him to that standard. You can make the argument that in football, they are 4th in the pecking order - I wouldn’t make it, but you could. Wisconsin is maybe the 8th best basketball job in the Big Ten (they’ve performed above that level the past two decades, but Bo Ryan was really, really good).

A week or two ago, someone - I think it was Kind of... - suggested that T. J. Otzelberger is the potential replacement that the fire Gard crowd is clamoring for. Otzelberger would be a home run hire and is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin originally. But he played at Whitewater (and doesn’t have ties to Madison). Otzelberger is also married to a former Iowa State women’s basketball star and has spent more than a decade coaching at Iowa State across three different stints (two as an assistant and the current one as a head coach). If Wisconsin was to fire Gard, they would have to know they were absolutely getting someone like Otzelberger ahead of time. Firing Gard to just begin a regular coaching search is something that should not be under consideration this season.

Kind of...: Gard’s seat is cold right now. There’s no doubt he’s an excellent coach at getting the most out of the talent at hand. [Hot take: Give him Painter’s rosters from ‘16-present, and he’s made a Final Four already.] But the rub is that he’s also responsible for the talent on hand, and that is clearly lower-tier of B1G. I mean, UW was picked 9th/10th in B1G this year, and they’re sitting at 10th, so he’s not even really underachieving. But it’s just brutal to watch undersized bigs do the old man/YMCA triple pump fake, then toss up slop. Almost as brutal as watching the nth iteration of “our end of half/game offense is a Chucky Hepburn step back 3. ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES.”

The incoming class is not wowing anybody nationally, but it might be low-key really good by UW standards. Gus Yalden, a 6’8”, 240 PF is EXACTLY what UW needs right now. And John Blackwell, a 6’3” combo guard is going to be a sleeper (his dad played for Illinois in the 80s). Wahl is the only senior, and he has his Covid year. Gard will—and deserves to—get next year to show that this was low ebb. But if next year looks like this year, the seat will warm quickly.

MaximumSam: Another guy on the one more year club. He has had one year with single digit losses and has never gotten past the Sweet Sixteen, nor been to the Sweet Sixteen in years. He does return pretty much everyone (apply eligibility Calvinball) next year, so if they don’t field a really good team next year I’m not sure why you keep him around. By the way, did you know Nate Oats is from Wisconsin and went to Wisconsin and currently coaches the #1 ranked team in the land?

Everyone gets at least three seasons

Minnesota Gophers HC Ben Johnson

Overall record: 20-33 (7-16 this season)

B1G record: 5-28 (1-12 this season)

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 01 Minnesota at Rutgers
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

BoilerUp89: I didn’t understand this hire when it was made and still don’t. But it’s just year two and we don’t have any off court issues that have popped up. The freshman have some talent and next year’s class is even better. Despite the extremely poor play at times this year and last year, Johnson is set to get a third year unless the athletic director makes a bad decision.

From what we’ve seen so far Johnson doesn’t have what it takes, but we’ve seen more surprising turnarounds.

WSR: Johnson’s got at least one to two more seasons. He’s got another solid recruiting class coming in next season, but he needs to find an answer at PG and do ANYTHING that resembles an offense.

He was a HS QB: I said exactly the same things during the John Groce era.

thumpasaurus: lol nostalgic isn’t it? that was what I kept yelling. if he can’t land a point guard that can run his system, he better change the system!

MaximumSam: Minnesota illustrates the dangers of shooting your coach into the sun. New coaches are trying to build a strong program, but the transfer portal makes that a much more ephemeral idea that it used to be. Minny can return everyone on their roster plus two talented freshmen. Will that actually happen? Anyone’s guess. If they are playing whack a mole again with the roster, it will tough for him to field a competitive program.

Off the Hot Seat

Congratulations to Northwestern Wildcats HC Chris Collins on escaping the hot seat. As the former frontrunner for most likely to be fired this spring, Collins has done a great job this season.


- everyone except MNWildcat