Rex Walters lasted eight years at USF. Kerry Keating lasted nine at Santa Clara. Neither left much of a footprint before they were urged to seek more meaningful employment elsewhere in the span of three days.
Then again, they have are merely the latest victims of the West Coast Conference’s Few-Bennett tyranny. This has been a two-school oligarchy for most of the past 17 years, and even taking in Brigham Young hasn’t changed that.
Keating and Walters’ crime was the same – not making an impact in a tough market for college basketball or a tough league for interlopers. And it wasn’t impatience that got them, either. The WCC is particularly poor at coaching changes, preferring to give their employees plenty of time to crack the enigma code of Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.
Indeed, if we mark Few’s hiring as the start of the current tyrannical era, there have been only 17 coaching changes. Bennett has been in charge for 15, BYU’s Dave Rose for 11, Portland’s Eric Reveno for 10, and Keating and Walters. Only Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine have been active in the musical chairs category.
More damning, though, is the fact that BYU has had only one fewer tournament appearancs in five years of membership (three) than the rest of the conference has had in 17. There is Gonzaga, there is Saint Mary’s, and then there is distant history.
The problems at San Francisco have been well-documented. In the post-scandal era, there have 14 winning seasons (out of 31), two 20-win seasons (’12 and ’14), and one brief NCAA Tournament appearance (a 17-point loss to Utah). Walters had transfer issues, and had no success gaining traction in a tough attention-span town. His 127-127 record was, in the tough crowd of college basketball, fireable.
Santa Clara’s were simpler. Keating succeeded a popular Bronco lifer in Dick Davey because the athletic department felt like “modernizing” its image, and Keating was part of the Ben Howard UCLA coaching tree. The Broncos had two 20-win seasons in Keating’s tenure, won the CIT Tournament in 2011 and the CBI in 2013, but never won over the area as Davey or before him Carroll Williams had. His 139-159 record was, if anything, even more so.
But mostly they got fired because Few and Bennett never went away. They didn’t take better jobs, and simply re-upped in their own little fiefdoms. Both had opportunities – Few more than Bennett – but Few chose the path of the attractive mid-major, an avenue really restricted to Xavier, Butler and a few other schools, while Bennett basically rented out Australia.
Both systems worked (Bennett got into a squeeze with an assistant bringing in a French recruit and was suspended for five games in 2013, in the interests of disclosure), and worked so well that they have met in the bastardized conference tournament final in eight of the past 13 years (BYU played the Zags in 2014 and ‘15).
And the WCC being the WCC, there has been no room for anyone else. The conference has gotten three schools into the NCAAs twice in its history, and that has left no place for anyone else to unfurl its wings, let alone stretch them.
So Walters and Keating got binned, and San Francisco and Santa Clara are ready to find a new way to crack through Bennett’s stranglehold on the Bay Area (just as Cal under Cuonzo Martin is getting his program rolling). Those will be the 18th and 19th hires since Few replaced Dan Monson, and based on the usual WCC coaching activity, the end of coaching changes for this year.
Other than the upheavals of 2008 and 2009, when five schools fired their coaches (three of them twice), this has been an unusually stable league. Almost too stable for everyone’s good, really, unless you’re Mark Few or Randy Bennett.