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The Buck Stops Here: Should college coaches be fired during season?

When basketball coach Mark Gottfried was fired last Thursday by North Carolina State, he did something uncommon in sports: He continued coaching the team. The university granted his request to finish the season when he easily could have collected his $2.5 million and hit the bricks.

“I don’t want to quit on my players,” Gottfried told reporters in Raleigh. “I think it’s the best thing for them. … I care about our players a lot. I care about them as individuals, and I want to them to have success more than anything else.”

It was a classy gesture that will help Gottfried land another job based on character alone. He’s also a good coach. He was hired in 2011 and guided N.C. State to the NCAA Tournament four times, including two Sweet 16s. He recruited a superstar in Dennis Smith Jr., who is expected to be an NBA lottery pick.

Gottfried’s inability to attract more top players while playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference ultimately led his demise. N.C. State had a 16-17 record last season before the bottom fell out this year. It had lost seven straight games, fell to 3-12 in the ACC and 14-14 overall going into its matchup Tuesday night at Georgia Tech.

In a classic rant, Kentucky coach John Calipari came to Gottfried’s defense. North Carolina coach Roy Williams made a point to say he didn’t believed college coaches should be fired during the season. Other coaches have voiced similar sentiment in recent years. In effect, college coaches have been put on notice.

“We’re firing coaches in midseason,” Calipari said in a video posted by SEC Country. “You know what I’m putting in my contract? You can fire me at midseason but you’re going to have to pay me $3 million. … What if Mark Gottfried goes on a run at the end and gets to the NCAA Tournament, which he was in four out of five years? Two Sweet 16s, which is not done at N.C. State. What happens now?”

What happens now?

The trend will likely continue. Coaches get fired during the season every year in every professional sports. The Bruins fired Claude Julien this season, and the Canadiens hired him about 15 minutes later. Midseason firings are still much more common in the pros than in college, but N.C. State was hardly alone.

Years ago, college coaches were practically immune to getting fired during the season. Once considered bad form at the college level, those days are gone. College sports are big business. Twelve Division I football coaches were fired before November during a four-year stretch starting in 2013. The list includes LSU’s Les Miles last season. Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn was kicked to the curb in 2014.

Increases in salaries for coaches have led to less patience for failure. Schools were more willing to endure down years before coaches started making the big money you see today. Miles was making $4.4 million, for example. LSU’s 2-2 record failed to justify his contract, and he was escorted to the exit.

College administrators have adopted the approach of many professional owners and general managers: The sooner you make a change, the sooner you can find a replacement. N.C. State already began preparing for its search while Gottfried continued coaching through a lost season.

Who will replace Gottfried?

Dayton coach Archie Miller appears to have an inside track. He played for N.C. State and served as an assistant coach under Herb Sendek. He has built an Atlantic 10 powerhouse at Dayton. He’s making $1.8 million. If N.C. State needed to fire Gottfried, it better expect to spend more money to replace him.

Cormier jabs rival Jones

In town last week promoting his title fight against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in UFC 210, light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier took great pleasure in beating Rashad Evans and Jon Jones to the punch in Buffalo.

Evans, a native of Niagara Falls who graduated from Niagara-Wheatfield High, is a former champion who longed to fight in Buffalo. He never had the opportunity because UFC was banned from New York until last year. Jones, the only man to beat Cormier, is from Rochester.

“Evans and Jones are from this area, and we get to headline before them,” Cormier said with a smile. “It’s double-sweet with me. (Jones) would have preferred to be the first guy to bring MMA to this area. Unfortunately for him, his best friend gets to do it.”

Cormier is hoping for a rematch with Jones, partly because he needs to make peace with himself after losing to him two years ago in UFC 182. They were scheduled to fight last summer, but Jones was suspended and stripped of his title for violating the UFC’s drug policy. The Cormier-Johnson winner likely will fight Jones.

“I think people are saying that the wrong way,” Cormier said. “He gets a crack to fight one of us. He’s the guy that’s been away. We’re not trying to get to him. He’s been out. It’s not some privilege to fight him at this point. It’s a privilege for him to get into the octagon with me.”

Junior’s tank is full, for now

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be one of the top stories for the Daytona 500 no matter where he finishes Sunday, but rest assured sports lovers hope he’s in contention going into the final 20 laps. Junior captivates an audience the way Tiger Woods does with a one-shot lead on the back nine of a major.

Earnhardt for years has been the face of NASCAR, and he was missed last season while he recovered from a concussion. He married longtime girlfriend Amy Reimann on New Year’s Eve, has talked about having children and hinted that he’s unsure about how long he’ll continue racing. He’ll be in the front row Sunday.

“There’s a lot of elements and it’s not an easy decision to say, ‘When is the time to hang it up’ and, ‘Is it worth it?’ and all that good stuff,” Earnhardt told reporters in Daytona Beach, Fla., via USA Today. “There was a lot of time in there during the recovery where there were days where I was 90 percent sure I wasn’t going to drive again. There was days when it was 50 percent.

“I’m not going to race for any other reason but I want to be out there. I don’t think that’s very smart to do it for any other reasons. There’s motivations to racing: the fans and camaraderie and all the great things you get to experience, but if I’m gonna come back I have to be racing because I want to be out there.”

Philly boogies most over Cousins deal

It’s been a rough week for Kings GM Vlade Divac, who was ripped royally for trading DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans and getting little in return. If that wasn’t bad enough, he admitted turning down a better deal two days earlier. He previously said his star player wouldn’t be traded.

If you agree the Pelicans won the trade because they landed the best player involved, fine. Cousins is one of two NBA players who has averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in each of the past four seasons. The other is his new teammate in New Orleans, Anthony Davis.

Let’s not forget that the Kings never made the playoffs after selecting Cousins fifth overall in 2010. He was a persistent nuisance who likely would have left when his contract expired after next season. The Kings didn’t trade Cousins the player. They cut their losses with Cousins the person for a fresh start.

The team boogying most over the Cousins trade wasn’t New Orleans. It was Philadelphia. As part of a previous swap, the 76ers can swap first-round picks with the Kings if Sacramento gets a higher pick. The Kings are expected to fall in the league standings, which will increase their chances in the lottery.

Philly could wind up adding a Top 5 pick to a roster that already includes Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Ben Simmons. The Sixers are in position to trade one of their big men, likely Okafor. Simmons, picked first overall last year, has been sidelined all year. Beware of the Sixers.

Quotable

UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma after the Huskies’ 101st consecutive victory, a 63-60 win over Tulane: “What happened today was the wrong team won.”

Stats Inc.

0 – Career weeks in which Hall of Fame golfer Phil Mickelson, who counts five majors among his 42 career victories, has been ranked No. 1 in the world.

144 – Points scored by Virginia in its past three games. According to ESPN, it’s the fewest in a three-game stretch for the Cavaliers since 1951.

70 – Points for the Oilers in their first 58 games. The last time Edmonton had that many points in the same number of games was 1987-88, when they won the Stanley Cup in Wayne Gretzky’s last season in Edmonton.

Extra Points

* It was only a matter of time before the Magic Johnson was named president of the basketball operations for the Lakers. He wasn’t exactly subtle in recent weeks about his interest in running the show. The guy openly campaigned for the gig while talking to anyone willing to listen. Finally, Jeannie Buss did.

* San Jose’s Brent Burns, third in NHL scoring with 64 points, could become the first defenseman since Chris Pronger in 1999-00 to win the Hart Trophy (MVP) and Norris Trophy (top defenseman) in the same year. The last D-man to win an NHL scoring title was Bobby Orr in 1974-75, when Bobby Clarke was named MVP.

* With two goals against Carolina, Connor Brown became the ninth Toronto rookie with multi-goal games this season. The Maple Leafs had nine rookies with multi-goal games in the previous eight seasons combined.

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