Nearly two weeks ago, Wyoming decided to part ways with head coach Heath Schroyer. The national media didn’t care much until Steve Fisher decided to speak up on the MWC media teleconference last Monday, calling the move “inexcusable”. Actually, even at that point they didn’t care much until Fisher was reprimanded by the conference for criticizing another conference school. That’s when Andy Katz decided to reprimand the MWC for being “thin-skinned”. Others followed.
I’m not going to suggest that firing a coach before the season ends should be a regular course of action for athletic directors across the country. However, I think there are appropriate situations where the best move for both the coach and his employer is to part ways mid-season. The result of such a move can benefit both the coach and the program he’s separating from.
Most importantly, firing a coach mid-season is occasionally the humane thing to do as was the case here. Imagine that you’re in a job and things aren’t going well. Your employer doesn’t think you’re meeting expectations, your most loyal customers are now taking their money and supporting other businesses, and the people you manage are not responding to your leadership. Your employer can either force you to work under these conditions for another month, or pay you a sizable sum and free you from these conditions. Is there another profession where being forced to work under those conditions would be thought of as the right thing to do?
Instead of pouring hours into coaching over the next month before inevitably being fired, Schroyer has time to spend with his family and prepare for his next job. He has time to put the house on the market, survey the coaching landscape, and anticipate what his options are. Coaching is a grueling year-round gig. I imagine the rest might do Schroyer some good wherever he lands. It’s not a stretch to say it will help his performance at his next job. Not to mention that Schroyer is free from NCAA regulations until he is again employed by a college program. He can contact prospects as he pleases for the next month or two.
There are benefits for the firing university as well. Most notably, publicity. If Wyoming had waited until March 10th to fire Schroyer, the news would have been buried under an avalanche of Championship Week items. Now (with some help from Fisher) everybody knows Wyoming has an opening. Sure the job may not be desired, but that doesn’t stop semi-credible news outlets from posting a list of possible candidates that makes it seem like an ACC job. If somebody thinks Cuonzo Martin would interview for it, then maybe someone like Matt Brady will seriously consider it.
Finally, an early firing prevents the university from changing its mind. In 2006, Wyoming rolled in the MWC tournament at 12-17 riding a six-game losing streak. Head coach Steve McClain was on the verge of being fired, having lost the support of boosters and fans after three mediocre seasons. There were indications that McClain was on the way out after the tournament, and McClain was oddly quoted as admitting such even before his team was eliminated.
But the Cowboys knocked off second-seeded Air Force and sixth-seeded Utah to make the MWC finals before an ESPN audience, and apparently those two results were worth more than the three previous seasons of mediocrity. McClain was back for a second consecutive lame duck season, which was part of the reason Schroyer inherited such a mess. Wyoming knocking off San Diego State or BYU in the MWC quarterfinals this season would be the upset of year, or close to it. Had it happened under Schroyer, it would have made it rather difficult to let go of him, forcing Schroyer to coach another season in a job he never seemed to be a good fit for.