Mountain West Basketball: The Hot Seat, 2020-2021 Edition
Every coach in the conference and a look at their job security.
How hot are seats around the Mountain West?
The 2020-2021 season may come with plenty of asterisks, as the absence of fans, modified conference schedules and an extra year of eligibility for players will make this a season like none we’ve encountered before.
At a certain point we have to be thankful for the entertainment and opportunity this sport provides us as fans and the players who do all of the work on the court. But expectations should be as open and malleable as possible because as we sit here, twenty-four hours away, games are still being canceled or postponed with no real solution to make this season uniform in anyway for all 357 teams involved.
So come March when we look back at whatever unorthodox Frankenstein version of a season we’ve just had, how can any of us truly give a grade to any team, player or coach? Will coaches jobs still be in jeopardy come March? Or will athletic departments take it easy on coaching staffs during a season that maybe harder than any before to evaluate?
It’s hard to say, as your traditional methods of evaluation are absent. Ticket sales will be modified to a lower capacity or gone completely. Also, how do you look at a winning percentage if there are less games or key players absent and quarantining? Are we treating those absences like any absence of the past caused by injury or is this season different?
At the end of the day decisions will be made and they will likely be made based on a lack of progress or similar results from last season. So with the seat temperatures and their corresponding definitions listed below, let’s review.
Frozen (Contract extension time), Cold (Don’t worry you’re doing fine), Neutral (No tangible results), Warm (try something else), Hot (Maybe one more shot), Scolding (Dialing firm for coaching search)
Joe Scott, Air Force, 1st Season back (departed for Princeton in 2004)
Seat temp: Neutral
Record at Air Force: (51-63, 44.7 W-L%), 21-36 in the MW
Coach Scott returns to the Air Force Academy to begin year “one” in his second stint in Colorado Springs. He departed the Academy for his alma mater, Princeton, back in 2003-2004 after leading the Falcon’s to their last conference championship (regular or tournament) and to one of only two NCAA tournament appearances this century.
A twelve year span as head coach at Princeton and Denver where he spent nearly a decade before opting for some time in the assistant ranks at Georgia has brought coach Scott back to the Academy. The return of double-digit scorer A.J. Walker is a good foundation for a Falcon’s roster with plenty of unknowns. But even given a previous track record to measure at Air Force, college basketball in 2004 is very different to college basketball in 2020.
So, a clean slate or neutral rating seems fair for coach Scott in his first season back in the Mountain West.
Leon Rice, Boise State, 11th Season
Seat temp: Cold
Record At Boise State: 198-128 (60.7 W-L%), 89-67 in MW
10-6 in the WAC, 9-15 in the postseason
Coach Rice is the most tenured coach in the conference, at least when it comes to being in charge of a Mountain West program (10 seasons). He has kept Boise State competitive since day one of joining the Mountain West from the WAC and enters the season with maybe his most anticipated roster ever.
His recruiting style changed a bit to gear up for the 2020-2021 campaign, instead of under the radar junior college, high school or the occasional top-200 player sprinkled in. The Broncos will play this season with former five-star recruits, impact transfers and the likely Mountain West player of the year in Derrick Alston Jr..
Coach Rice’s tenure has been great, two NCAA tournament appearances, a regular season championship and a couple of players taken in the NBA Draft and others playing professionally around the globe with Alston Jr. up next. For that Rice’s seat is cold but not freezing as I am not sure if the administration expects more postseason results at this point and if failing to deliver a tournament berth with such a talented roster this season will make folks think twice. Or is it just the next step that can be achieved at anytime given a clause in his contract that set the bar at just eighteen wins a season several years ago.
Niko Medved, Colorado State, 3rd Season
Seat temp: Cold
Record At Colorado State: 32-32 (50.0 W-L%), 18-18 in the MW, 0-2 in the postseason
Coach Medved has the Colorado State program on the rise and is beginning to replicate the same winning ways he has acheived at his prior stops as a head coach. The Colorado State athletics department seem to think Medved will be the long-term solution in Fort Collins, as a recent contract extension has him coaching the Rams until 2026.
Medved’s secured future at Colorado State seems to be based on his previous track record and his seemingly one season turn around of the Rams program. After notching just 12 wins in his first year in charge, last season’s 20-win and 5th place conference finish have the hype train at capacity in For Collins. The Rams are picked to finish in 5th once again this season, and welcome back the reigning freshman of the year in Isaiah Stevens, David Roddy and many more.
Medved’s seat is obviously very cold given his new contract, but with most of last year’s roster returning, it feels like an encore performance is needed to cement his job security given just two years of results to measure at Colorado State.
Justin Hutson, Fresno State, 3rd Season
Seat temp: Neutral
Record at Fresno State: 34-28 (54.8 W-L%), 20-16 in the MW, 1-2 in the postseason
Coach Hutson was a solid hire by the Fresno State administration nearly three years ago. He has been around the Mountain West since the mid-2000s as an assistant with one of the most winningest programs in the conference in San Diego State. Learning under one of the best coaches in conference history in Steve Fisher during that time. But since a very successful year one, the Bulldogs program is now facing the rebuild reality often accompanied with a change in coaching staffs.
Year two was a struggle but provided plenty of hope with a group of high potential freshmen gaining valuable experience. Year three would have been a shot at gaining some momentum but the high rate of transfers this offseason, including several of those talented lowerclassmen have created another season of unknowns in Fresno. Recruiting classes have continued to be strong under Hutson, with a mixture of three star recruits with high major offers, juco players and transfers with local ties comprising the roster in 2020-2021.
The good news is, Hutson and his staff have gotten several key immediate eligibility waivers approved, have another formidable freshmen class and still have Orlando Robinson. Where the only other coaches to receive a neutral rating in this review are 1st year coaches, Justin Hutson receives it as well as he has had two polar opposite finishes in the conference. Year three will be crucial because a finish similar to last season may put doubt in the minds of fans and folks in the athletic department. But it’s highly plausible to see Hutson get a fourth year to change their mind given another basement finish.
Steve Alford, Nevada, 2nd Season
Seat temp: Cold
Record at Nevada: 19-12 (61.5 W-L%), 12-6 in the MW, 0-1 in the postseason
Coach Alford’s Mountain West homecoming was by all accounts a successful one. After six seasons at UCLA he was unable to replicate the postseason success required of the Bruin’s athletic department to keep his position.
If coach Alford can one up his successful first year in Reno, that would be impressive. Given his very young roster, a top-five finish would also be considered a positive year two. So for now, based on reputation and last year’s second place finish, coach Alford’s seat is cold.
Paul Weir, New Mexico, 4th Season
Seat temp: Warm
Record at New Mexico: 52-47 (52.5 W-L%), 26-28 in the MW, 4-3 in the postseason
The Paul Weir saga at New Mexico has certainly been an interesting one to say the least. In three seasons in charge in Albuquerque, after defecting from southern rivals New Mexico State in 2017. Coach Weir has managed an overall record just hovering above .500 at 52-47 while finishing 26-28 in conference play. Those that know the expectations of fans in Albuquerque know that this showing is unacceptable and year four needs to be without the off the court drama that took from a successful start to the season last year.
Coach Weir has managed to keep hope alive most seasons, with a combination of high major transfers, former five-star players and highly sought after recruits. But after a brilliant run in the conference tournament back in 2017-2018, with a roster that didn’t have the hype others Weir comprised in the years to follow did, folks saw potential. Since, the headlines have not been very kind to the Lobos but a pivotal year four looks different on the surface in Paul Weir’s program.
This year the Lobos will be back in a similar position they were in year one. Gone are the second chance transfers and back are the junior college workhorses, freshmen fighting for playing time and a few transfers for good measure. This roster is full of unknowns but coach Weir may receive a final judgement based on the results produced at the end of the year. Because in a conference on the up and up, the Lobos cannot afford to fall behind any further and need to be able to compete. So for that coach Weir’s seat is warm this season as he adopts the “try something new approach”.