Friday, March 16, 2007

For Michigan Basketball To Reach Point B, Transitional Guy Amaker Must Go

If this is the way it has ended for Michigan basketball coach Tommy Amaker, then it won't be the greatest of legacies, but he can always hang his hat on the "transitional guy" hook.

Amaker, it's apparent to me, is the "transitional guy" -- the coach who takes a program, college or pro, from the depths of Point A, and manages to get it to Point A-and-a-half. But not quite to Point B.

Last night, Amaker's kids playing in a tournament they'd rather have no part of, Florida State kicked Wolverine tail, 87-66, in a second round NIT tilt.

Some of Amaker's seniors were shockingly candid in their assessment of Michigan's participation in the NIT before it began earlier this week. Lester Abram was perhaps the most blunt.

"Nobody wants to play in the NIT, but we have to do it," Abram said.

Hail to the Victors.

About 24 hours after Abram's comments, Michigan beat Utah State, but before just 3,114 at Crisler Arena, which was reportedly the smallest crowd ever for a Michigan men's game.

Amaker spoke bravely and positively about the NIT bid before the first round game, even as his seniors were contradicting him to reporters. Amaker thought it was peachy; the players thought it was the pits. Some even hinted that less than a 100% effort might be on tap.

That was, to me, when the situation crystallized regarding Amaker's situation at Michigan.

The folks I've spoken to all agree that Amaker should be out after six seasons as Michigan's basketball coach, but they also don't believe it will actually happen, because the coach is: a) well-liked by the university president; b) his wife works for the university; and c) he cleaned up the program, which was part of his charge.

It's quite out of character for Michigan to fire any of their varsity coaches; they do so only when there really is little choice in the matter. But most of Michigan's coaches are "Michigan men," which Amaker is not. Had Gary Moeller not had his very public drunken moment in a Southfield restaurant in 1994, he wouldn't have been let go. But it was impossible to keep him after that.

Amaker is the quintessential transitional coach. He has done some good things at U-M, no question -- picking up the pieces after the Ed Martin stench being a very good thing, for example. His teams have won an NIT and lost in the finals of another. The recruiting has gotten better.

But all that has done is gotten Michigan basketball to Point A.5. There still needs to be an ascension to Point B, for this is the University of Michigan and this is a basketball-rich state, and nothing less should be acceptable. Tom Izzo and MSU has run roughshod over Michigan in basketball, and Tommy Amaker has not been the man to stop it, or even slow it down much.

A while ago I mentioned Phil Hubbard, a former Michigan center, NBA player, and now currently a tenured assistant NBA coach. Michigan's administrators could do a lot worse than to give Hubbard a call and talk to him about the job.

The Wolverines are almost there in basketball, but not quite. Tommy Amaker has reached a certain level, but I fear he's topped out. And his players got spanked in a tournament they wanted no part of, one game after playing before just a few thousand of their own fans, and on a day where the March weather was gorgeous and could not be blamed for the pathetic turnout.

It's time for the man who can bring the Wolverine basketball program to the next level. And that man doesn't currently occupy the coach's office in Ann Arbor, sadly.

No comments: