With our basketball team sitting at 8-9 (0-6) and on a 16-game conference losing streak, the writing is basically on the wall for Tony Barbee's time on the Plains. The real question about our head basketball coach, in my mind, is, "Will he be fired during the season or after the season?" I would assume after, but if we don't pick up a win soon, during wouldn't surprise me. Considering that it's widely assumed that he will not be roaming our sidelines beyond this season, we'll be treated to another edition of a coaching search, AKA the most fun thing about Auburn basketball in the past five years.
Over the last 30 years, when Auburn has hired a basketball coach, he has been an "up-and-comer" from a smaller school: Sonny Smith came from East Tennessee State; Tommy Joe Eagles came from Louisiana Tech; Cliff Ellis (the trend breaker) came from Clemson; Jeff Lebo came from Chattanooga; and Tony Barbee came from UTEP. Four out of our last five coaches came from schools outside the BCS conferences, including the only basketball coach hired by our current athletic director. While our recent baseball and softball hires may lead you to believe we could pluck a coach at a major conference school, I still believe we will go with another up-and-comer, and hope for the best.
I looked at the standings of the different leagues around the country tonight, and looked up the coaches of several mid-major programs that are having good seasons. The first names that most people shout from the mountain top are Shaka Smart (VCU) and Gregg Marshall (Wichita State), but both of those guys will almost certainly get better offers than Auburn. A couple of other names, such as Michael White (Louisiana Tech) and Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss) were intriguing, but the guy whose résumé stood out the most to me is Tod Kowalczyk (Toledo).
Kowalczyk's current Toledo squad sits at 17-2 (5-1 MAC), and they are receiving votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll. That is impressive enough on its own, but what really jumps out to me is how he has built that program (and Green Bay before it) out of the crater the previous coach left it in (sound familiar?). When he took over at Green Bay, the previous coach, Mike Heideman, had left the program in much worse shape than he found it, with a 9-21 record in his final year. After eight years of steady improvement, Kowalczyk had compiled a 136-112 (73-61) record, and earned himself a promotion to Toledo. His rebuilding job there was much worse than at Green Bay, as the previous coach at Toledo, Gene Cross, had decimated the program, with an 11-53 overall record in two seasons. When he took over in 2010, Kowalczyk led the Rockets through a rebuilding 4-28 year, and since then has compiled a 51-32 record.
His rebuilding record speaks for itself; he is 47 years old, so his age isn't a concern; and to top it all off, he has had his success at Toledo, whose athletic gear is provided by -- you guessed it -- Under Armour. Based on all of these factors, I'm officially sold. Hopefully, Jay Jacobs will do his research, not get hung up on the fact that Kowalczyk has not spent any time in the South, and come to the same conclusion I did. War Eagle!