This isn't something that I've looked forward to writing. It feels about as good as a punch in the gut. I've avoided it. I've defended Ernie for three years on this blog. He has led us to great seasons--two trips to the elite eight. He has made the basketball palace that we are currently constructing possible. But, even as I remember fondly those accomplishments, I have to look at what's out in front of me. And when I look that this team, both where it has been, and where it appears to be headed, I can only come to one conclusion:
Its time to let go of Ernie Kent.
This isn't something that is fun to write. I've met Coach Kent on multiple occasions. He is nothing but class. Very approachable. Nicest guy you'll ever meet. I've wanted him to do well for that reason alone. He runs a classy program. Only once have I heard about basketball players getting into off court trouble (and the Duck shooting incident was more mischief making than criminal). He graduates his players. And I have yet to run into a UO basketball player who wasn't an incredibly nice guy during his tenure. He has led us to highs we could only imagine prior to his tenure--two elite eight runs and a Pac-10 championship.
But setting aside those two fantastic seasons--two out of the twelve that EK has roamed the sideline in Eugene--the simple truth remains:
Ernie Kent has not won consistently enough to remain head basketball coach at the University of Oregon.
Until this point, there have been two factions that have been most vocal about coach Kent. The first is delusional fan. This fan believe that we should be North Carolina or Duke, in contention for a conference championship and #1 seed every year. Pulling national championships on a regular basis. These folks often exaggerate and claim that EK will likely win only two conference games every year. This is a delusional fantasy, of course. They will point to our football team (which really hit lightning in a bottle), believing that we are somehow entitled to be a national athletic powerhouse. Even our football team has down years (how'd that awesome Vegas Bowl against BYU as few years back taste? What about 5-6 with a home loss to Indiana?). Anything short of a Pac-10 title this year would have these guys frothing at the mouth.
On the other side, there are the impassioned defenders. They believe that Ernie is a great coach, that even in getting our asses handed to us by Montana and St. Mary's and Portland etc., that great improvement is being shown, and that somehow the next big run is only a year away.
Maybe it is. Likely, it is not.
What frustrates me about Ernie Kent is that he has failed to evolve as a basketball coach. When I think about the main criticisms of Ernie Kent, it amazes me how long I've been hearing this stuff:
- They lack fundamental defensive play and toughness, especially in the interior.
- There is no reliable low post scorer, nor a mechanism in the offense for one. When the jump shot well goes dry, its going to be a long night.
- There is a lot of standing around and passing on the perimeter.
- The offense bogs down when there is not an NBA level point guard on the roster.
- Is insert player's name any better now than he was when he was a freshman (exceptions being Brooks and Jones. As Jared once told me, we got good when Aaron Brooks realized he was Aaron fucking Brooks).
Do these criticisms sound familiar? They're all indicative of the larger problem: consistency. There is nothing consistent about our basketball program. We'll be horrible for three years, really good for one, and horrible for three more. The games play out the same way--we'll go on an incredible 21-0 run fueled by a shooting explosion. But there is not great defense being played. Nobody to pound it down low in the post. Nobody to stop the bleeding and get a score when the three point well dries up. We do not grind out games and win on nights when we are not our best. We're either on. Or we're horrible. Rarely is there any in between.
Is it any coincidence that teams led by Aaron Brooks and Freddie Jones led our only two really good teams? Its because they were the only guys we could count on when the jumper wasn't falling. And they were both guards--not a great sign.
Where is the beef? You mean to tell me that the best back to the basket player we've had was Chris Christofferson?
You can tell in the first five minutes of an Oregon game whether we have any chance or not. And you can tell by Christmas whether or not the season will be any fun. I can take getting blown out by UNC or Texas like happened in Maui last year. I won't call for the coaches head for a few losses to the St. Mary's or Portland's of the world.
But to lose to St. Mary's three years in a row? Oakland twice in a row (perhaps soon to be three?). Getting run off your own floor by Montana? And for it not to be a one day lapse, but to happen consistently? That's not even counting two Pac-10 wins last year, or having no hope when the Pac-10 is as down as its ever been and we're the only team that has returned every significant player.
All I really ask for is that our team be competitive and entertaining. We should probably be in the tourney fairly regularly, and if not, at least NIT. I don't think that's too lofty, and if you do, ask yourself how you're going to pack 12,000 asses in the new arena to pay off the bonds. And, more selfishly, I'm tired of the season ending in January.
Ernie Kent has upped the standards in Eugene. He has brought in much better talent than he had previously. But he has not developed that talent consistently enough, not embraced a system consistent enough, and not won games consistently enough to bring this team to the next level.
As I said before, I respect Ernie Kent. I like him. I hope that there is some way to get a new coach, but keep him in the athletic department, because he an important member of the UO family (I realize that the dynamics make this all but impossible). I'm not going to drag him through the mud. I'm not going to pull a Bruins Nation and post the headline "Fire CEK" every day because I'm neither into running Ernie into the ground nor hearing myself talk. But it is what it is. And, barring some kind of miracle, I think its pretty obvious what needs to happen.