Arizona State men’s basketball was one of just three teams to beat University of Arizona this season. But it wasn’t enough to save the job of the Sun Devils’ head coach.
Herb Sendek, who just wrapped up his ninth year in charge of the program, was cut loose just two days after the Devils were eliminated in the second round of the NIT. The announcement from Athletic Director Ray Anderson, who said Sendek “will not be retained,” appeared on the school’s website this morning.
“This has not been an easy decision for me,” Anderson said in his statement. “Herb has been a tremendous asset to the university and a pillar of our community, and his tenure over the past nine years has helped shift the direction of the program.”
But obviously the shift wasn’t big enough. The 52-year-old Sendek has been good at times, but not consistent. He was named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year after the 2009-10 season when he took that squad to a second-place conference finish – the highest in 30 years – and has posted 20-win seasons five times.
After an 8-22 finish to his first year after arriving from North Carolina State, he strung together three straight 20-win seasons. But the rebuilding process began to stall after that as the 2010-11 team went 12-19 and the following year he was able to post just 10 wins overall.
Jahii Carson, the No. 10-rated prep point guard in the country and a prized local recruit, stepped in after that and helped the Sun Devils last year win 21 games and make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in five years. However, they were bounced from the tourney by Texas in the first round.
The Mesa High School graduate had to sit out his true freshman season over NCAA eligibility issues, so he gave the ASU program just his sophomore year before entering the NBA draft last spring. And Sendek was left to try to fill the void.
This year the Sun Devils finished the regular season with a mediocre 17-15 record and made it only as far as the second round of the NIT.
In 2011, Sendek was given a vote of confidence when the Board of Regents approved a two-year extension to his $1.2 million contract that would carry him through to June of 2016, and then extended it another year a few months ago. But it’s not a dark secret that a contract in college sports is no guarantee of longevity. The only thing that provides true security is winning, not a piece of paper. (Anderson says that donor contributions are expected to pay for the remaining year on Sendek’s contract.)
Sendek knows how to coach the game. He’s generally acknowledged as one of the better college coaches in the country. But, despite snagging Jahii Carson, his ability to recruit to the desert has long been in question. Perhaps the final straw was the recent de-commitment by Perry High’s Markus Howard (see previous post) that threw into question Sendek’s ability to secure and keep the kind of elite talent that’s needed to take the ASU program to the level that rival Arizona has already reached.
And that’s where the rubber hit the road for Sendek.
As Anderson explained it: “We have a four-prong approach when it comes to evaluating all of our head coaches: integrity, academics, performance, and fan affinity advancement. Herb has been a true leader in the first two categories and his dedication to ensuring our student-athletes become successful young men has been unrivaled
“However, our athletics department, university, and community expect our men’s basketball program to compete consistently for Pac-12 titles, make regular trips to the NCAA Tournament, keep the best in-state talent, and energize our fans and donors. Unfortunately, we have fallen short of these expectations.”
Anderson says a national search will begin immediately, but warns Sun Devil fans that it may take some time to find what he calls “the best fit for the program and the university.”
Translation: It’s not going to be easy to find a better coach willing to come to the desert to accept the challenge of taking the ASU program to the next level – and willing in the meantime to live in the shadow of a rival program that has become one of the best in the country.
Can’t wait to see who they come up with.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)