PantherU

Panthers need to come together in spite of turmoil, civil war

March 17th’s firing of Rob Jeter signaled the end of an era for Milwaukee Panthers basketball – an era that featured mostly moderate success, with a couple brief-but-noticeable dips. No one was pleased with the results, with only one NCAA Tournament victory in year one and two appearances overall. It would stand to reason that the time for Milwaukee to move on was soon; either at the end of his contract in 2017, this offseason or even the recent past.

Obviously the program can do better. It could do much worse, as well – look at what’s happened to UIC. Steve McClain may or may not be the right guy, but he definitely took it on the chin in the first year of a necessary transition. So what can we be looking forward to?

Whoever the coach is, they’re looking at the possible loss of at least three, maybe four out of five projected starters – Jordan Johnson, Akeem Springs, Austin Arians and Cody Wichmann. They have been given their release, and will wait to meet the new coach before making a decision.

The falloff in talent after next season was going to be strong anyways, especially since JayQuan McCloud left the team. So 2017 would have been a good year to transition to a new coach, but now that it’s 2016, the potential loss of talent is incredible.

And it is a lot of talent. Akeem Springs could be a 1,000-point scorer, Arians will most certainly be so. Jordan Johnson has a pretty good shot at being the schools all-time leader in assists, and if he were to have a Steve McWhorter-like jump from junior to senior year in scoring, he’d have a good shot at 1,000 too. Cody Wichmann is one of the best glue-guys in program history, right up there with Jason Averkamp, Justin Lettenberger, Mark Pancratz, or Mark Briggs.

No matter who the coach is, 2016-17 looks like it could be a historically bad year for the Panthers if they can’t hold onto the stacked senior class.

I’m not concerned with Rob Jeter’s record, although it’s pretty easy to make an argument that coaches with even 11 years of experience deserve patience. The coach has been fired, and now there’s a vacuum. The basketball team never had support from athletic director Amanda Braun, at least not the support needed to win. Braun, however, says something different. In media appearances, Braun has mentioned that the Panthers are funded at the top of the Horizon League.

Are they? Rob Jeter’s contract was definitely the highest in the league. But the rest of the program – is it really funded at the top of the Horizon League?

Not so much. Numbers reported to the federal government in 2014-15 show that Milwaukee is 4th in the Horizon League in men’s basketball expenditures:

hl-mbb-expenses-2014-15

Horizon League men’s basketball expenses, as reported to the federal government. Source: http://ope.ed.gov/athletics

 

 

Funding at top level? I don’t think so. Fourth in the conference doesn’t get it done if the goals of the team are to be in the top 100 of the nation and top 3 in the conference every year.

The head coach’s salary is just one expenditure. You also have the salary of all the assistants, the salaries of the director of basketball operations (DOBO) and video coordinator. You have operating expenses, recruiting expenses and travel expenses. Strong mid-majors have budgets for buy games, although Milwaukee would probably need to play a couple buy games to be able to afford being on the buyer’s side.

If Rob Jeter’s salary is part of that $2.16 million number, then the Panthers might be as low as 6th in spending minus head coaching salary, if Steve McClain makes at least $85,000 less than Rob Jeter. That says to me the problem isn’t so much Rob Jeter, but Rob Jeter’s salary.

Those are numbers reported for 2014-15. We don’t have the numbers available, but we’ve heard that the men’s basketball program – like all others in the department – had its budget cut. If that’s the case, then how can you expect the coaching staff to reach your expectations if you don’t give them the tools to do so? Jeter’s successor needs to have the support that Jeter didn’t get or we’re going to be back here in a few years doing the same exact thing.

The one way I could see Braun coming up with the line about funding the program at the top of the Horizon League is if she’s counting naming rights for the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. If she is, then that’s not spin so much as it’s expecting everyone to be stupid and treating them as such. The naming rights have no bearing on the basketball team’s performance. If anything, the coaching staff could tell recruits that the naming rights indicate a long-term commitment to the arena downtown – and we know the 2012-13 move to the Klotsche Center was disastrous for recruiting.

But it doesn’t affect play on the court. You know what affects play on the court? Practice – and despite her efforts to get the basketball practice facility built, the fact remains that Braun (like Geiger, Costello and Koonce before her) did nothing to give the basketball team even a temporary solution to its problems with practice. To frequent readers of PantherU, this is a problem they’ve heard plenty about for years.

Other things that affect the program? Travel budget, recruiting budget, operating budget. Traveling in relative style compared to other mid-majors has helped the Panthers mitigate problems with the practice situation in recruiting. Cuts to that have made things difficult on the recruiting front (the team bused to the Horizon League Tournament, for crying out loud, compared to perpetually cash-strapped Green Bay flying by charter jet).

The program is in a tenuous position. Its last head coach was removed in a spectacularly poor fashion. The program has lost funding, and the new face of the department has said many things in defense of her decision that have been proven false or called into question by people outside Rob Jeter’s circle (speaking of that circle, it’s headless – Rob Jeter has remained magnanimous here, staying away from the fray).

To sum it up, the next head coach is going to have a real problem bringing everyone together. Current players loyal to Jeter. Former players who are angry at how their coach was treated. Donors walking away from the program. Sponsors, boosters, fans  Рthe whole Panther community is in the midst of a very heated argument.

Milwaukee needs someone who is going to pull the community together. Maybe Tracy Webster is the guy – he’s certainly well-liked from everyone I’ve spoken to, but I haven’t had the chance to meet him myself. Maybe it’s one of the other candidates – it’s a decent list, albeit one with many question marks. The candidates with no question marks – the Scott Nagys of the world – aren’t among the reported candidates. We know why.

Amanda Braun has a lot of work to do. Hiring the next basketball coach is just the first step; that coach will need the support that the last coach didn’t receive if they’re going to be successful.

This shouldn’t be too tough to see. After all, Braun’s job was not tied to Rob Jeter’s success. It most certainly will be tied to that of the next coach. I expect her to pull out all the stops to make sure the next coach succeeds – well, all the stops she can achieve without having to sell it to someone above her on the totem pole.

Once upon a time while coach at Memphis, John Calipari remarked that “it takes a village” to succeed as a mid-major. Leaving aside the hilarious notion that A) Memphis is a mid-major and B) it takes a village and not a bag of money, he wasn’t wrong. Mid-majors can’t win just based on the coach alone. A head coach, even a great one, needs support from all over the university community to succeed on the court.

The athletic director needs to do many things, but most of all they need to be able to sell others that helping them will help the program win. The facilities director needs to make sure that the team has full reign on the practice court; the time has long since past where the Panthers should be treated like a Division I basketball program. The chancellor needs to make sure people in the university are willing to help the coach succeed, and that starts with the athletic director selling the chancellor on that task. Amanda Braun can’t tell people in other parts of the university what to do; the chancellor can. That means Braun needs to get Mone to play ball. Once Mone plays ball, everyone else needs to support the program in any way they’re needed to help.

That means from fans as well. We can’t look at Braun’s hire and judge him guilty by association. We can’t walk away from the program just because she’s still around. The program needs our support. Amanda Braun is just a steward of our program; we are the owners, and its time we all close ranks around the new coach.

By all means the Resistance will live on, but the new coach is going to get my support. He should get yours, too, whether you agreed with the firing of Jeter or not.

I don’t know what support is going to be needed. The new coach will tell us that. But we need to make sure the basketball team doesn’t suffer because of a civil war in the Panther community. Otherwise we’re just going to continue this downward spiral that the program has been on. We need everyone to be together on this bandwagon, even if you may feel like you want to throw someone off of it.

It starts with hiring a basketball coach. After that, it’s on Braun to give him the tools he needs to build the program back up again.

 

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