A College Coach Deserves Four Years of Job Security

Coach Molly Goodenbour stood in front of her women’s basketball team last spring for their annual end of the season banquet with an even-keel demeanor at the Bren Events Center. In front of a podium, she spoke of opportunities missed in a 9-21 season, the graduating seniors who were going to be missed and a sense of urgency to not miss the chance to win with the eventual expiration of the eligibility of, Jade Smith-Williams and Mikah Maly-Karros impending. After two seasons at the helm, Goodenbour had registered an abysmal 16-44 record, but had yet to witness one of her recruiting classes graduate.

There often comes a point in time when struggling collegiate coaches are evaluated following the season by the athletic director. For UC Irvine’s Athletic Director, Mike Izzi, that decision between dismissing Goodenbour and placing his faith in her was likely tossed around. Whether he put much consideration in going a different direction or not, an 11-6 start to the 2010-2011 season makes Izzi look like a genius for retaining the Lady Anteaters’ coach. After starting the season 0-3, Goodenbour’s squad won 11 of their next 12 games from Nov. 23 to Jan. 8, surpassing last season’s win total with over a month remaining of Big West action.

In professional sports the teams don’t have nearly as high of a turnover rate of players as the college game, so they are given less leeway. The reality of college sports is that every player will graduate within four years, which makes planning crucial for coaches. When the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers recently hired Jim Harbaugh to coach their team, they did so expecting him to match or improve upon the team’s previous win total of six. Next season, the 49ers will likely bring back a majority of the players who performed on the field for them this year with a few free agent and draft exceptions. Professional players don’t graduate, some change cities, but most key contributors stick to their teams.

Therefore, judging Harbaugh in one season compared to previous 49ers coach, Mike Singletary is much more reasonable than if it were, say, women’s college basketball.

Last season the women’s basketball team had a mesh of players recruited by Goodenbour and those remaining from former coach Molly Tuter’s roster. Coaches have their preference in the style that they prefer to play. When a new coach is hired on, it’s a process that should be respected and given time to develop.

Although in a perfect world for UCI, the men’s basketball first year head coach, Russell Turner, would be storming through the Big West and winning games with ease. But it’s not that simple. The only athletes on his roster that he has recruited and should be judged by his personal recruits: Daman Starring, Chris McNealy, Kevin Mulloy and Maxime Chupin (Mulloy and Chupin have not played a single game yet and will likely be redshirt freshmen next season). If his team qualifies for March Madness with the remaining ex-Anteater Patrick Douglass’ recruits, it’s gravy for the ’Eaters, but it shouldn’t be expected.

In college athletics, a coach should be given four years to prove themselves, barring completely devastating results (e.g. losing respect/control of players or substantially underperforming in relation to the previous coach’s results). Despite two unimpressive seasons, Goodenbour didn’t lose the respect of her players and she managed to improve upon the program’s two previous atrocious seasons (7-24 in 2008-2009, 6-24 in 2006-2007). The UCI women’s basketball team and Izzi did not push the panic button and the players remained committed to their coach. For this, all parties should be appreciated.

Happy winning, Coach Goodenbour!