Somebody must have awakened Bob DeCarolis, the Oregon State athletic director. Reports Monday morning indicate that the Beavers have finally pulled the plug on Craig Robinson, President Obama’s brother-in-law, after six years of mostly failed OSU men’s basketball.
As befits many of DeCarolis’ dealings, the timing is very strange. It’s been almost seven weeks since the Beavers completed another lackluster season by losing in the College Basketball Invitational to . . . Radford. In front of 1,351 fans at Gill Coliseum.
In the short term, the move comes a couple of days before Pac-12 basketball coaches gather (along with football coaches and athletic directors) for spring meetings in Phoenix, so they’ll only be setting 11 places at one table. And the league must find a replacement for Robinson, who was scheduled to be head coach of a league all-star team touring China this summer.
Know this: They’re throwing parties in Corvallis. Somebody I know very well called it the best of sporting weekends — Blazers nip Houston to advance in the NBA playoffs, Pac-12-leading OSU baseball team sweeps Cal, and Craig Robinson gets fired.
You hesitate to call it a banner day when somebody is canned, but this was as overdue as mass transit in Seattle.
Not long after OSU’s season ended, DeCarolis penned a letter to Oregon State supporters, beseeching them for continued support of Robinson’s regime. (Maybe this had something to do with the fact DeCarolis had, a few years ago, hooked Robinson up to a multi-year contract that reports indicate will require OSU to pay Robinson a remaining $4 million.)
The letter, to put it politely, was laughable. It gave spin a bad name. After it asked for support, DeCarolis wrote, “I close with a few facts about Coach Robinson’s OSU career.” (Cue up image of DeCarolis applying lipstick and mascara to a pig.)
Among other accomplishments DeCarolis listed were these:
* He is the fourth-winningest coach in Oregon State history with 94 victories and trails only Hall of Famers Slats Gill, Ralph Miller and Bob Hager. Yes, and if DeCarolis had only allowed him to stick around several more years, he might have climbed farther up that list.
* Oregon State has been .500 or better four times since 1991, and he has coached his teams to three of those seasons. Really setting the bar high down there, aren’t they?
* Five Oregon State players have received All-Pac-12 recognition. Four of those five weren’t first-team, and the league’s first team includes 10 players.
* Eight Oregon State players have been named Pac-12 player of the week. The Pac-12 named 18 of those this year alone. And Robinson coached there six years.
And on and on.
Make no mistake, Robinson is a good, fair man who was a classy representative of OSU. But his teams were poorly prepared and unfailingly leaky on defense. His last four teams were in the bottom three of the league in field-goal defense.
Those four also led the conference in points allowed, which he would contend was a function of playing uptempo. Funny, I thought that might have contributed to his undoing. His first OSU team won by playing a more controlled style with a troublesome 1-3-1 zone, turning around predecessor Jay John’s 0-18 team by winning a CBI title. Soon after, the Beavers began to run; maybe he figured he had to do it to recruit. But after that, they were mostly a mess.
Through it all, Robinson occasionally made an observation that seemed completely out of touch with reality, but maybe that’s what happens when you get a long-term contract for accomplishing precious little. He lost me in February, when a pedestrian Washington team went to Corvallis and flattened the Beavers, 86-62, after which Robinson said “the enormity of the moment” might have gotten to his team.
You know, the enormity of having the possibility of playing in the NIT.
With the exception of UCLA, Robinson lost more of his nucleus than anybody in the Pac-12. Then Hallice Cooke, a promising guard, decided to leave. And now OSU goes searching for another program savior, just like it did when it hired Jim Anderson and Eddie Payne and Ritchie McKay and Jay John, and did I miss anybody?
Oregon State hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1990. You figure you’d just fall into one at some point. Now it’s probably a minimum of three years before that can happen, and by then, OSU will have just about matched its NCAA-record 28-year drought of winning seasons in football that finally ended in 1999.
It’s not an easy job, obviously, and with every failed candidate, the position becomes more entrenched as a coaching graveyard. The name of Arizona assistant Damon Stoudamire, the former Wildcat and ex-Trail Blazer, has been advanced as a candidate and that would appear to be a splashy possibility for the Beavers, a Portlander intimately familiar with the state. But he also has to know that with Arizona’s high profile — it will be a prime contender for the national title in 2015 — there will be far safer opportunities coming his way.
There’s a reason coaches like Randy Bennett and Bill Grier have, before Robinson, turned thumbs-down on Oregon State. If OSU fans think it’s worth a call to Leon Rice at Boise State, don’t waste your time.
Robinson helped OSU get a dedicated practice facility, but the charm of Gill Coliseum as a basketball hotbed has long since worn off, and it’s the oldest, dowdiest facility in the league now, surely a drain on recruiting.
It’s not getting any younger. Nor are the memories of the glory of OSU hoops under Slats Gill and Ralph Miller.