Controversial hires in college sports are nothing new. When any school makes a coaching change, there is bound to be some debate over whether the school’s athletic director made the right choice. However, the debate over two new hires has intensified past the normal amount, and not everyone is happy.
When the Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters fired head coach Teresa Witherspoon in mid-March after a disappointing 12-20 season, it was clear that they wanted to make a splash with their new hire. They did just that when they introduced Tyler Summitt as the new coach on April 1. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Tyler is the son of Pat Summitt, the legendary Tennessee Lady Vols coach who retired in 2012 with 1,098 wins (most all-time), eight national championships and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Tyler was an assistant under his mother for three years before becoming an assistant for Marquette the last two. The stunning thing about his hiring? He’s only 23 years old. Summitt has been given the reins to one of the most successful programs in the history of women’s basketball over many experienced candidates. One of the seniors on this year’s Techster team, Jelena Vucinic, is only one year younger than Summitt. Pat Summitt said in an interview that her son was prepared to coach, rejecting the notion that he was too young or inexperienced. “He has been preparing for this day since he was a little boy,” Summitt said.
Would I have made this hire if I were in charge at Louisiana Tech? Absolutely not. There must have been an older candidate with more coaching experience than Summitt and that person should have been given the first chance at the job. Summitt obviously has a wealth of basketball knowledge gained from being around the Tennessee Volunteers program his whole life, but there’s a difference between knowing the game and being ready to be a D-I head coach. When you’re only a couple years older than your players, recruiting may take a hit because of the parents. They will have to make the decision on whether or not they trust their daughter to go to Louisiana Tech and be coached by a young man two years out of college who is still learning and maturing as a person himself. Most 23-year-olds don’t even have a clear picture of what they want their life to be like. They make mistakes an older coach would not make, both on the court and off. If his last name wasn’t Summitt, Tyler would not be the man hired for this job; it’ that simple. This is La Tech’s decision and they will have to live with the consequences if it does not work out. If Summitt can do a good job and prove America wrong, then he deserves all the credit that comes to him. Until then, the skepticism will remain.
Another very controversial hire in the women’s game came when former ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes was hired as the new coach at the University of Arkansas. Dykes, a Razorback alum, was one of the most respected college basketball analysts in the business but hasn’t been on a coaching staff since 1991, when he was an assistant under Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State. He has never coached in the women’s game. Despite this, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said that after meeting with Dykes it was clear that Dykes was “not only the best leader for our women’s basketball program, but also the best Coach for the student-athletes in our program.”
The Dykes hire is different than the Summitt hire, but is still extremely questionable. The college game has changed a lot since 1991, especially the women’s game. Being a college basketball analyst and a head coach at a big-time SEC program are two very different things. Dykes did a great job for ESPN and has shown he has an extremely intelligent basketball mind, but some candidates who were more qualified and experienced probably got passed over again for a guy who hasn’t coached since Tyler Summitt was a baby. Dawn Staley, the head coach of the SEC champion South Carolina Gamecocks, has 14 years of head coaching experience and she’s still considered one of the young coaches at 43 years old. She started her first head coaching job nine years after Dykes left Oklahoma State. Most of the coaches in the SEC have coached women’s basketball for ten years or more and Dykes is just going to come in and expect to take the Arkansas program to the NCAA Tournament right away? It doesn’t work that way, the whole Razorback program is going to realize that soon enough. Would a female college basketball analyst get a head coaching job 23 years after her last coaching experience? Probably not.
In conclusion, Louisiana Tech and Arkansas both made very controversial decisions when hiring their new head coaches in the last few weeks. It’s sure to cause an uproar across the college game, and both coaches (as well as their athletic directors) will have many critical eyes on them in their first season at the helm.