Every industry has its performance review season. Most of us who spend our waking lives in cubicles had performance reviews at year's end. Those whose jobs are in college basketball, however, face ongoing performance reviews, and one of the best locally just had his performance deemed lacking.
Cliff Warren was fired as Jacksonville University's head basketball coach — in a way, a predictable move. A 12-18 season; before that, two seasons averaging 20 losses between them, prompting the athletic director to act.
But was firing Warren the right move? Even after three losing seasons, it's important to be mindful of what else the former Georgia Tech assistant coach did in almost a decade at the helm of the Dolphins program. He got JU to the NIT twice (and beat the No. 1 seed one year), led the team to a victory over Billy Donovan's Florida Gators, and built up the program after Hugh Durham's departure.
His record over nine years — 126-150 — isn't great, but if the one-win season in 2005 is factored out, that's eight years of .500 ball. How much more can JU really expect in D-1 basketball in the 21st century?
JU's athletic director, Brad Edwards, came from Newberry in 2012 to take this job (missing the good years Warren had). He hasn't leveled with the media about why he dumped the coach. "It's not just won-loss record," he told the Times-Union. "The institution wants to move in a new direction. That's all I want to say, and can say. These decisions are never easy."
True. Live long enough, and you will fire someone (and be fired). Still, in this case, it's hard for me to imagine a new direction that will be appreciably better than the one taken throughout the Warren era.
We don't usually think of JU's NCAA Atlantic Sun conference as a powerhouse. However, it's a Division I conference, and has some schools with significant student bodies. Kennesaw State has about 25,000 students, and quite a few others have more than 10,000 students. JU, with about 3,300 undergrads, is near the bottom. And yes, size matters. A growing land grant university has significant advantages over a private school like JU when it comes to recruiting. David cannot slay Goliath every time. That seems to be the expectation imposed on Warren.
If he'd won three more games this year, would the .500 record have saved him? Warren constructed his roster from smoke and mirrors, recruiting creatively and nationally because he knew the difficulties of competing with Gainesville and Tallahassee, and he was too polite to say that JU had no real appeal for local athletes.
For his part, Warren is being unrelentingly positive — the same positivity that characterized his time as head coach. After being fired, he tweeted: "To my Jacksonville community, family & friends worldwide ... THANK U THANK U THANK U, you're far 2 kind. Truly Blessed … God is GOOD."
And why shouldn't he be positive? He'll be fine. He can cool his heels as an assistant somewhere for a year or two before moving on to a position at least as good as the one at JU. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have greater worries. They need to find someone who is as creative, as motivating and as proven as Warren to come in and "rebuild" yet again, with almost nothing on the roster to work with. Good luck with all that.