Friday, January 29, 2010

No More Moss Growing at UNCW

I didn't know that I was going to see history this past Wednesday night. And I am not talking about Charles Jenkins' eight point play, though that was damn unique. No, I am talking about seeing live the last game Benny Moss would coach at UNC Wilmington.

Moss was fired (or "reassigned") today as head coach of the Seahawks. Moss was in his fourth season at UNCW with an overall record of 41-74. His teams only won six games in conference the past two seasons and 14 games overall. Moss had been hired as head coach after Brad Brownell "left" Wilmington after the 2005-06 season to coach Wright State.

The game Wednesday night was no doubt the final straw for the UNC Wilmington administration. Wednesday's game received national attention for the Jenkins eight point play and the beat down that Hofstra gave UNCW overall. The game did show a lot of the flaws of Moss' tenure as Seahawks coach.

The past two seasons, UNC Wilmington was a very bad defensive team. How bad? This season, tenth in scoring defense, last in steals, last in turnover margin. (though first in the CAA in three point FG percentage defense). Last season, the Seahawks were dead last in just about every CAA defensive category - scoring defense, FG percentage defense at 50.8 percent per game (which is seriously unreal), three point FG percentage defense, rebounding margin and blocked shots. And the Seahawks were at the bottom of scoring defense in the CAA the two previous seasons under Moss.

Compare that with Brad Brownell's last season coaching the eventual CAA champions. The 2005-06 Seahawks were second in the CAA in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and three point field goal percentage defense. And Brownell's 05-06 team knew how to hold onto the ball, first in assist to turnover team and second in turnover margin.

And you could just see the lack of effort on defense on Wednesday. There was one play in the second half where Hofstra on offense got the ball inside to Halil Kanacevic who had posted up UNCW's Matt Wilson. Kanacevic dribbled and backed in on Wilson for what seemed to be at least five seconds before hitting a turnaround layup. Not one Seahawk came to help Wilson and double team Kanacevic. I turned to my friend Tieff and said "If Bruiser Flint saw that on defense for Drexel, he would call timeout and kill everyone that was on the court." And he would.

The lasting image for me, which I mentioned in my article Wednesday night, was noticing the total lack of UNCW fans at the game. During the high years of Brownell and Jerry Wainwright (the previous coach of UNCW before Brownell, who went to Richmond then later to DePaul, and also got fired by the Blue Demons this season), UNCW fans traveled very well to Hempstead and to Richmond as well for the CAA Tournament. But then again, that was during the run of three NCAA tournament teams in five seasons for the Seahawks.

There is already speculation online of Wainwright coming back home to restore the glory of the Seahawks. And I bet the success of Wright State under Brownell truly gets under the skin of the Seahawks faithful.

The circumstances behind Brownell leaving UNCW for Wright State back in June of 2006 were very interesting to say the least. At that time, I even wrote an article on my old site about it. There were shady dealings behind then AD Mike Cappacio's courting of coaches including Moss before Brownell even officially left UNCW for Wright State. A few months later, the Wilmington Star News Online wrote a detailed article behind the shady dealings.

Moss wasn't even the first choice for the UNCW job once Brownell "left" for Wright State. Capaccio had personally offered North Dakota State's Tim Miles the job despite the UNC Wilmington's search committee recommending Moss for the job. Miles was a rising star at North Dakota State having built a Division II power that had just moved into Division I, eventually joining the Summit League. After turning down the UNCW job, Miles would stay one more year with Bison, before leaving for Colorado State. The Bison would make the NCAA tournament last season under current head coach Saul Phillips.

Now you always hear about the power of boosters amongst college programs. And yes, there appears to be the power of boosters working UNCW Men's Basketball program. If you don't think so, here's a couple of examples. First, after the loss of Brownell, the controversy around Brownell leaving, Brownell's Wright State team making the NCAA Tournament and a 7-22 record in Moss' first year as coach, Capaccio was dismissed as UNCW's AD almost one year after Brownell "left" for Wright State.

Then there is today's news conference announcing Moss' "reassignment". Current UNCW AD Kelly Mehtrens announced Moss' reappointment and noted that the men's basketball team is the “lifeblood of our department.” In Dan Spears' article, he notes that "significant boosters" were part of the packed press conference. Do you think they had a say in Moss' "reassignment"? Is Brett Blizzard considered a legend in Wilmington, North Carolina?

This is has been a very harsh season for coach firings. In fact I can not ever remember a season where so many college basketball coaches got fired during the season. First, there was Dereck Whittenburg at Fordham. Then Glen Miller at Penn. Then Wainwright at DePaul (love the picture of Wainwright in that article). Hell, apparently even the Dartmouth team had a revolt and forced their coach, Terry Dunn to resign. Now Moss.

And you can't blame any of these coaches for being upset about being fired midseason. Perhaps Moss said it best in a prepared statement.
"Regardless of the current record, the team, coaching staff, and I deserved the opportunity to finish out the season and demonstrate the true potential of the team. The almost unprecedented decision to relive me of my duties as Head Coach in mid-season does nothing to benefit the program. It serves only as a mechanism to chastise and embarrass me personally.”
Yes, the Seahawks weren't playing well and certainly showed a lack of effort Wednesday night. But Moss is right, there is no benefit to firing a coach in midseason. You can't truly hire a new coach till the season is done. Why not just tell Moss that he will be let go at the end of the season and at least let him coach out the season? The boosters get what they want and Moss gets to keep his dignity.

Unfortunately for Moss, it wasn't precedented with all the other coach firings during this season. And those firings very well may have given Mehrtens the ammunition needed apparently for Moss' "reassignment".

It's just another example of what Kyle Whelliston calls the Sports Bubble, the need to win etc etc. College basketball is really now no different from the professional sports leagues. The talk of expanding the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams. The need to have ESPNU announce the Bracketbusters on a special live Bracketbusters Announcement Show this Monday at 6:30 PM Eastern.

Mehrtens said the search for a new coach at UNCW would begin soon and that she wants to have her new coach in place shortly after the end of the NCAA Tournament. That would mean she would have to look at coaches during the current season. Don't get me started about the possible conflicts of interest for current coaches and assistant coaches on other teams of potential interest.

Hey, you have to do anything for "the lifeblood of our department." Benny Moss found that out the hard way today.

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