Knuth decision was the right one for Nevada
Sports fodder for a Friday morning…The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball season and the David Carter era mercifully came to an end Wednesday afternoon. Give Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth credit for pulling the trigger on Carter. It would have been easy for Knuth to give Carter, who had two years left on his contract (at $300,000 per year base salary) one more year. Nevada, after all, is not a school that can afford to pay one coach to sit home while someone else actually coaches the team. But Knuth stepped up, put on his big boy athletic director’s pants and showed he’s indeed more than a guy who simply walks through the crowd looking for donations. But, make no mistake, this was a financial decision. And Knuth is all about the dollar signs. Lawlor Events Center was two-thirds empty for much of the season. The community lost confidence in the program. Knuth had no other choice.
Carter’s shortcomings have been well documented. His teams were 36-59 in their last 95 games. They finished with a losing record in four of the last five seasons. Carter’s Wolf Pack was 18-34 in Mountain West regular season games and never won a conference tournament game (0-3). The days of allowing a coach like Jack Spencer (1959-72) to pile up one losing season after another for more than a decade are long gone. Coaches make too much money now for that to happen. It’s not enough just to be a good guy who runs a clean program and only recruits good kids. You have to win and sell tickets. Carter didn’t do either of those things. Carter is going to make more money the next two years not coaching than most Pack coaches in the school’s history made throughout their careers. Don’t feel too sorry for him.
Carter’s biggest failure in his six seasons as head coach was he simply couldn’t build a program. The Wolf Pack never was able to build any momentum from one year to the next under Carter and always seemed to be scrambling just to keep its head above water. There were always a ton of excuses (players transferring or jumping early to the NBA, injuries, academic problems, bad schedules) why Carter’s teams struggled. The vast majority of Carter’s players also never seemed to get better. Marqueze Coleman, D.J. Fenner and Michael Perez were prime examples of that this year. The Pack under Carter the last three years got worse as the seasons progressed. Many of his players got worse or, at best, stagnated the longer they played for Carter. The Pack lost 15 of their last 18 games in 2012-13, seven of their last 10 in 2013-14 and 14 of their last 17 this year. His teams didn’t grow. They just seemed to wear out.
A moment of silence, though, is now needed for the greatest era of Wolf Pack basketball. After 16 seasons, from the Big West through the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West, it’s now over. The Trent Johnson-Mark Fox-Carter era, though it didn’t end well, was easily the best in school history. Four NCAA Tournaments, three NIT appearances, two CBI appearances. Six regular season titles. Eight 20-win seasons. Six NBA draft picks. Johnson, Fox and Carter will forever be connected in Wolf Pack history. Carter came to Nevada in 1999 to coach under Johnson. Fox came the next year. When they were together, from 2000-01 through 2003-04, the Pack built something special. And, except for a bump in the road in 2010-11 when the program was depleted after the season thanks to the NBA, the excellence lasted through the 2011-12 season. The last three years, though, have been dreadful and, even worse, boring and frustrating, and the program, once again, is starting over.
The difference between Johnson and Fox and Carter? Johnson and Fox were leaders. They set the tone. They were the unquestioned authority figures of the program. They laid down the law and they were unforgiving. In short, they were domineering tyrants. Carter was a nice guy. Players loved him. Well, they did love him until he criticized them and then they would quit on him (see 2012-13 and this past season). When Carter’s teams played well, in 2009-10 and 2011-12, the players were the leaders. It was Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson who set the tone in 2009-10 and in 2011-12 it was Deonte Burton, Dario Hunt, Olek Czyz and Malik Story. Carter, channeling his inner Trent Johnson and Mark Fox, tried to get tough with his players the last three years but he never seemed to handle it well, criticizing their heart, courage, character and basketball intelligence. He seemed to just get mad and frustrated with them, acting more like a disrespected father than coach. And, more often than not, his players then just quit on him. In short, Carter simply isn’t a Division I head coach.
It’s not a coincidence in Carter’s two best seasons (2009-10 and 2011-12) he only had to change his starting lineup one time. He gave senior Ray Kraemer a ceremonial start on Senior Night in 2009-10. When Carter had to mold a starting lineup he always seemed to struggle to find the right combinations. He had no patience with his players and lost confidence in them when they struggled.
(see Coleman, Perez and Fenner this year) and never could seem to turn their season around. Carter had a losing record in each of the four seasons when he had to juggle his starting lineup. He was a solid coach when he didn’t have to make in-season adjustments. When the wheels started to fall off, by the end of the year the doors, roof and dashboard were laying by the side of the road.
This season fell apart for Carter when it was obvious (in late January) he couldn’t turn Marqueze Coleman into a starting point guard. That was the most surprising thing about this season. Most everyone realized this was a 15-win team at best but when Carter failed to mold Coleman into a dependable floor leader that’s when this season turned into one of the worst at Nevada in the last three decades. That’s how fragile this team turned out to be. Carter built his reputation at Nevada as the builder of great point guards. Todd Okeson, Ramon Sessions, Armon Johnson, Deonte Burton.
It was a decade of great point guards and Carter, a former point guard himself, tutored them all. Coleman should have been the best point guard in the Mountain West this year. He’s that talented and athletically gifted. But by the end of the year he wasn’t even starting and he turned out to be Carter‘s downfall.
Carter, though, was fired not because he couldn’t coach or build a program. He wasn’t fired because he wasn’t a good man and didn’t care about his players. He was fired because the Wolf Pack men’s basketball program needed a breath of fresh air. It needed new hope and promise. It needed a reason to get fans to buy tickets once again. That same thing happened when Brian Polian took over the football program from Chris Ault and Jay Johnson took over baseball from Gary Powers. A change was needed in those sports. A new direction and voice was desperately needed in those sports. Powers and Ault were running on fumes by the end of their careers. They wanted to go and nobody wanted to keep them. Polian and Jay Johnson revitalized both programs just like Trent Johnson did for basketball in 1999. Knuth hit a huge home run when he hired Jay Johnson for baseball. He can do it again for basketball.