Should He Stay Or Should He Go Now?

As the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament approaches and Oregon State’s hardwood season nears what fans of the team would deem a premature end … again, it’s time to chime-in on a “situation” that can’t be ignored:  Is Craig Robinson getting it done or has his time on the sidelines in Corvallis reached an inevitable end?

Coach Robinson has an overall coaching record of 70-78 and his record at Oregon State is 40-50.  That’s a winning percentage of 48% as a head coach and 45% as the head coach of the Oregon State Beavers.  In addition, he’s won just 38% of his conference games and has never finished higher than 5th in a conference which has spent the last few years on the wrong end of respect from the pundits who cover the game.  He’s yet to take an Oregon State squad to an NCAA tournament, has lesser-yet seen the NIT, and since arriving at OSU has but a CBI Championship to hang his hat on in regards to postseason accolades.

Are these numbers signs of a coach trending towards where he and fans of the team would like him to go, or are they the means to an end for a man who’s had his chance … and missed it?

I say the former.

Most of the Beaver fans I’ve polled on this topic of late mince few words regarding his performance.  Most are displeased and most would prefer he take his talents to South Beach, Cannon Beach, or any other locale not named Corvallis, Oregon.  Some feel he’s had his chance, some feel that he’s worn-out his welcome, and the rest just “tired of losing to the Ducks!”  The latter could be merely frustration over-flowed from 5 straight football beatings, but the previous 2 are legitimate concerns of a fan base still dreaming of a yesteryear created and sustained by a college basketball legend.

Ralph Miller set the bar at Oregon State, entrenching the program amongst the best in the game throughout the 1970’s and 80’s.  During his time, he amassed 4 Pac-10 Championships, 11 other top-3 finishes, and qualified for the NCAA Tournament 8 of his 19 seasons in Corvallis, including an appearance in the “Elite Eight” during the ’81-’82 season.  He had but 2 losing seasons at OSU and during the ’80-’81 season, Miller’s Beavers – led by All-American Steve Johnson – would spend 25 weeks as the country’s #1 ranked team.

Ralph’s “Orange Express” were what Beaver fans came to expect over that 20-year span, but it’s the span since his departure with which Robinson should be compared.

Since Miller left, the 4 coaches prior to Robinson won at a rate of 41%.  That includes the Jimmy Anderson – Ralph Miller’s longtime assistant – era, a 6-year span in which Anderson was able to piggyback the success of Miller’s historic run.  If you remove Anderson from the equation, the subsequent 3 coaches won at a clip of 38%, which included a winless conference season in 2007-08 prior to Robinson’s arrival the following year.  To the contrary, Robinson has won at a rate of 48% in his tenure and has done so on the heels of arguably the worst stretch of basketball the Pac-12 (then Pac-10) Conference has seen in its modern era.

The Beavers have finished in an average of 8th place since Miller left in 1989, and in the 8 years prior to Robinson, finished last or next-to-last 5 times.  You needn’t be Stephen Hawking to understand the depths of the poo which defined the Oregon State basketball program at the time Coach Robinson was brought in, but you do need to use your melon to understand that cutting him loose at this time, just isn’t good business.

Has he been great?  No. 

Is the program better than when he arrived?  Without question. 

He’s made them competitive, he’s increased the level of talent, and in spite of a substandard conference record this season, has put a product on the court which has rarely been overmatched regardless of opponent.  Of their 16 losses this year, 8 have been by less than 6 points and all but 1 have been by 10 points or fewer.

In addition to Robinson’s record of improvement, his contract makes him a commodity worth hanging on to.

Coach Robinson is slated to make roughly $1.1 million dollars a year over the next 4 seasons, and if he were to be fired, that’d be nearly $4.5 million dollars the university would be forced to pay in addition to whatever they’d be paying their new coach.  While benefitting from the Pac-12 conference’s new network revenues, the Beaver athletic department can ill-afford to dismiss a coach at this time, especially one with 4 years remaining on his contract.

And if you did send him packing, who do you get to take his place and how long do you think that coach would hang around if he were to have the type of success you’re looking for?  Corvallis, while quaint, isn’t a desired destination and Oregon State will never be able to compensate for what that lack in location, with the type of salary designed to do just that.

Craig Robinson is doing an okay job in a place that’s currently pretty darn difficult to do okay.  Sure, you’d like to be competing for conference championships and perennially qualify for the NCAA tournament, but in-order to run you have to walk first.  The Beavers are walking under Robinson, and maybe after another year or two with the system he has in place they’ll start running with the pack, instead of continually chasing it from behind.

I say give him a chance, and his contract says you probably have no choice.

About Arran Gimba