Every school enters the season full of hope…but for some coaches, the pressure is on if they wants to remain a head coach in the OVC. We’re looking at the hot seat for all 12 Ohio Valley Conference Basketball coaches, even the new ones, in order from ‘safe’ (Hot-seat score of 0) to ‘might-want-to-get-some-boxes.’ (Hot seat score of 10)
Rick Byrd, Belmont
I have a better shot of being named an OVC basketball coach in the next year than Byrd has of being fired. End story.
Hot seat score: 0, forever in perpetuity
Dana Ford, Tennessee State
Ford just took a team from 5-26 one season, to 20-11 the next. He took a team with a single returnee just two-years ago, and turned them into a conference competitor quicker than anyone could have realistically imagined. Ford, one of the youngest coaches in Division-I basketball, has a bright future ahead of him, and TSU would be smart to do everything they could to try and keep him in Nashville as long as they can.
Hot seat score: 0
I have a better shot of being named an OVC basketball coach in the next year than Byrd has of being fired
Sean Woods, Morehead State
No team has been the model of consistency (for better or worse) over the past four years than Morehead State. Ever the competitor, the Eagles haven’t found a way to get over the hump in the East, but I’m sure other schools are starting to take notice of Woods, who has lead the Eagles to three straight seasons with double-digit conference wins.
Hot seat score: 0
Ray Harper, Jacksonville State
The Gamecocks basketball program needs a shot in the arm, and Harper could be a very good hire for that. Harper was known to be fiery at times while at Western Kentucky, and his Hilltopper teams were always competitive. Forget about the ‘mystery’ surrounding his departure. The question: will his team go through the same first-year struggles as many of last year’s new coaches?
Hot seat score: 1
Steve Payne, Tennessee Tech
The Golden Eagles 19 wins last year were the most since Payne’s first official year leading Tennessee Tech, and much like the other coaches on this part of the list, his teams have been competitive every year. TTU ran into the surprising buzzsaw that was Austin Peay in Nashville last year, and I’m curious what they could have done if the Governors weren’t the team of destiny they proved to be. Much like Woods at Morehead State, Payne hasn’t gotten a team to the top of the East quite yet, but they’re always a tough team to beat.
Hot seat score: 1
Jay Spoonhour, Eastern Illinois
Spoonhour has only had one overall winning season in Charleston, but it’s hard to classify his time as anything but a success. The last two years, EIU has been among the best teams in the West, and Spoonhour has done a good job of recruiting talent to a school, that…well…isn’t the easiest to recruit to. I’d love to see his team take the next step, and maybe make a run to the OVC Tournament semi-finals or finals one of these years, but barring an absolute disaster, I can’t imagine any change at the helm of the Panthers any time soon.
Hot seat score: 2
Dan McHale, Eastern Kentucky
Throughout November last year, I cautioned Colonels fans about EKU’s weak slate, and we saw them struggle in conference play, and fail to make it to the OVC Tournament. (Although they won at TSU and Belmont in early February.) McHale had the second-most success of the first-year coaches, and he’s another young dynamic head coach that could be eying bigger jobs in a few years. He needs to continue showing progress, and get his team to Nashville next year.
Hot seat score: 3
Matt McMahon, Murray State (pictured at top of article)
McMahon’s Racers were the only team led by a first-year coach to finish the year over .500, but it was touch-and-go heading into the final month of the year. (Murray State didn’t get over .500 for good until February 11th) As we all know, expectations are much higher in Murray than probably any other Ohio Valley Conference city, and losing the division to UT Martin isn’t going to cut it for long. All that being said, though, the Racers lost a first-round NBA pick last summer, Steve Prohm was yet another Racers coach to leave late in the summer, and McMahon’s Racers struggled with depth. It’s just his second season, but the heat is always on if you’re the head men’s basketball coach at Murray State.
Hot seat score: 4
the heat is always on if you’re the head men’s basketball coach at Murray State.
Jon Harris, SIUE
Let’s be blunt: there wasn’t a ton to celebrate last year in Edwardsville. SIUE had three streaks of six or more losses throughout the year, and their six wins were the fewest since becoming a full member of the Ohio Valley Conference. The simple fact is: they didn’t have the talent, but this is a job in a city that, on paper, appears ripe for growth. If Harris’ Cougars finish with single-digit wins again next year, buyers remorse could set in quickly, but moderate improvement should give Harris breathing room for at least a third year.
Hot seat score: 5
Rick Ray, Southeast Missouri
Here’s the thing: while Dickey Nutt’s teams his last few years didn’t live up to expectations, they were usually competitive. Rick Ray’s first team…really wasn’t. Ray is clearly putting his stamp on the team, which is good, but no one was expecting SEMO to take this big of a step back before moving forward. He’s just in his second-year, but he can’t afford another disaster of a season.
Hot seat score: 5
Dave Loos, Austin Peay
This is such an interesting / weird case — a one-year extension when your contract is expiring is almost unheard of in men’s basketball, and you have to wonder what might have happened if Austin Peay didn’t complete their massive comeback in the second round against TSU on their way to an OVC tournament title, or if they lost one of their games in the final week of the season, and missed the OVC Tournament entirely.
The nature of the extension — just a single year — leads me to lean heavily towards a change coming sooner rather than later. So, what happens if Austin Peay goes .500, and Loos wants to stay for another year?
Hot seat score: 7
Anthony Stewart, UT Martin (Interim)
…speaking of weird cases, let’s head down to Martin. Stewart is the Interim head-coach for the Skyhawks, a tag he’ll wear for this entire season. After that?
First off, UTM needs an Athletic Director. Once they get one, the question becomes: how aggressive will that AD be? They may want to hire their own guy, no matter how gangbusters Stewart’s Skyhawks squad is this year. They may want to keep Stewart for another year, to allow some semblance of consistency, and give them some time before making their first major decision. Stewart’s team, which loses a lot of talent, might not be that great, and the decision is simple. Almost anything is possible here.
Hot seat score: 9. Or 4. Or 27. I really have no idea.