(posted at Spartan Roundball on July 18)
Has a curse been cast upon the San Jose State University men’s basketball program? Is an exorcism needed? Sure, we’re being facetious but damn, Spartan fans wouldn’t be wrong if believing something is seriously awry and has been so for decades.
Leaving behind the hocus-pocus, there are plenty of reasons for this long term failure and that sadly includes a number of SJSU athletic directors hiring friends or former employees as the head coach under the disguise of conducting national job searches. Too often, a deal was already cut yet the assembly of interview panels and the charade of interviews went on so as to give the appearance of thoroughness and fairness. Just as often, but a sometimes separate issue, is the employment of abusers.
Let’s rev up the time machine and go back to 1979 when AD Bob Murphy hired Bill Berry away from Michigan State. It doesn’t fit the ‘friends hiring friends’ scenario as there doesn’t seem to be any previous ‘connections’ between the two but Berry’s hire deserves detailing because it eventually resulted in the infamous Spartan 10-player revolt. His misconduct — the repellent mistreatment of the players — deserves no defense, period. Don’t even start. His behavior was unacceptable in any setting let alone a university.
AD Randy Hoffman hired Stan Morrison in 1989 in order to bring some positivity, rather than browbeating and worse, to the program. Morrison wasn’t as successful overall as Berry and probably lasted too long but his hire didn’t require the employment of an abuser. He was the necessary antidote to the poison and not ‘related’ to Hoffman.
In 1998, AD Chuck Bell brought in Phil Johnson and he coached for a season before joining the Bulls in the NBA (Chicago Coach Tim Floyd hired Johnson who later returned to SJSU in 2002). In 2005, the media’s discovery of three Johnson DUIs led to his dismissal. Any individual with an illness such as alcoholism deserves a degree of empathy but how Bell simply disregarded Johnson’s off-the-court behavior is worthy of shame. Johnson’s treatment of the players wasn’t Berry-like but still fell far short of acceptable.
After Johnson’s 2002 single season stint, Bell turned to Steve Barnes (yet another member of the Tim Floyd/Larry Eustachy coaching ‘family’ to which Bell seemed beholden) and he lasted three years (1999-2001) before he quit showing up for work. The same (mis)behavior towards players continued on, sort of a trademark of this group of coaches. Barnes moved on to coach for, you guessed it, Larry Eustachy, at Iowa State, Southern Mississippi and presently Colorado State. This behavior while at Iowa State remains very troubling.
AD Tom Bowen elected to hire George Nessman, a buddy from their De La Salle High days, and, say what you will about Nessman’s overall W-L record during his Spartan tenure, players were treated firmly yet fairly. By the way, Nessman coached DLS basketball back when Bowen was the AD there.
After Nessman, AD Gene Bleymaier hired Dave Wojcik — the connection being the former was the AD at Boise State while the latter assisted with the basketball program. What is true about Wojcik’s departure will finally surface at some point.
Isn’t it telling that none of these former SJSU coaches has ever headed a D1 basketball program again?
17 seasons since 1979 have been under the brutal auspices of basketball coaches who should have never be allowed to be in charge of anything or anyone. Yet what price has any AD paid for tolerating such evil? This is remarkably maddening and especially sad. Losing, however frustrating, can be dealt with — how does one, even as an outsider, process the perversion of abuse perpetrated by someone representing Sparta?
End cronyism as the most compelling factor in a hire.
End the toleration of wrongdoing.
Provide the new coach with the resources fully needed to succeed.
All are way past due.
Let’s hope we have the AD that is needed.