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Roots and Thorns in Waco, Part 2

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A couple of weeks ago, I noted how Baylor had swept all meetings in football and basketball during the past academic year for only the third time since World War II, and posed this question: How long do the architects of the sweep, Art Briles and Scott Drew, figure to stay where they are?

In Part 1, I thought Briles’ tenure boiled down to two questions: Does he consider Baylor a "destination" job? And, if so, how long does he stay? Without a shred of inside information, my guesses were "he stays" and "8 to 10 years."

Turning now to Scott Drew, it seems to boil down to a single question: Does Scott Drew want to be Kelvin Sampson or Bobby Cremins?

Drew is 148–118 in nine seasons at Baylor, having resurrected the Bears after the Dave Bliss debacle. His tenure includes three NCAA trips (two trips to the Elite Eight) and one runnerup finish in the NIT. Given the vacuum of accomplishment before his arrival, he should be set for life? . . . Right?

Kelvin Sampson?

Sampson was impressively successful at Oklahoma. In 12 years, he averaged 23.3 wins and 9.1 losses. Except for an NIT appearance in 2004, all of his teams made the NCAA, including one Final Four (2002), one Elite Eight (2003), and one Sweet 16 (1999).

Those achievements were somewhat marred by a three-year NCAA investigation. Eventually, a report was issued that cited Sampson and his staff for making more than 550 illegal calls to 17 different recruits. Sampson, whose last year at OU was 2005-2006, was forbidden from recruiting off campus and making phone calls for one year between May of 2006 and May of 2007.

That report hit right as Sampson had left Oklahoma for Indiana, a member of NCAA basketball royalty. While Sampson may have needed to cut some corners to lure top prospects to Oklahoma, the Indiana job offered Sampson the same opportunity that Bear Bryant had when he went to Alabama. The Crimson Tide are members of college football royalty. Luring talent there was apparently easier for Bryant than it was at his previous job, Texas A&M. Bear had a clean record in 25 years at Bama whereas his four-year stay at Texas A&M included a two-year bowl ban for widespread rules violations, including players receiving money.

Under the curmudgeonly Bobby Knight, Indiana was known as a program that won while being squeaky clean. Whether Sampson could win there without cheating, we’ll never know. The month before his first campaign was to start, he was already in trouble for making impermissible phone calls at Indiana. Sampson was still restricted from making outbound recruiting calls yet he was caught taking part in 10 conference calls with recruits while one of his assistants made more than 30 impermissible calls. By February, the NCAA had charged Sampson with five major rules violations. Before March, he was gone.

At this point, Drew has been caught once. In April, the NCAA concluded a three-year investigation of Baylor’s men’s and women’s basketball programs, identifying 738 texts and 528 calls that were impermissible. The NCAA has stripped one scholarship per year for both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. Drew was also banned from coaching the Bears’ first two conference games next season. Additionally, the NCAA accepted an already self-imposed penalty where Drew and one assistant didn’t make any recruiting calls during the first two months of 2012.

Bobby Cremins?

Before examining the Cremins option for Drew, there are a couple of big differences between these two coaches. For one, Cremins was well-liked by his ACC coaching brethren. Drew and the Big 12? Not so much. Also, Cremins had a nice long run before his coaching shortcomings caught up with him. His teams made nine straight NCAA tournaments including a Final Four in 1990. Drew’s run includes four post-season tournaments in five years, and two of those were the NIT. A final difference between Cremins and Drew is that Cremins never got in trouble with the NCAA in his 34-year coaching career at five schools.

Where you can draw a parallel between these two coaches is that Drew's recent come-uppance from the NCAA puts him at a career crossroads that approximates where Cremins was in 1993.

Similarities? Both Baylor and Georgia Tech have iconic football coaches against which all future coaches are measured, Grant Teaff at Baylor and Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech. The same is not true for basketball.

Before Drew and Cremins, the basketball history was sketchy at their respective schools. Between 1940 and Cremins’ first NCAA team in 1985, Georgia Tech qualified for exactly one NCAA tournament, that in 1960. The year before Cremins took the job, the Yellow Jackets went 4-23.

Baylor’s history is a tad richer, although most of it is in the distant past. Bill Henderson guided the Bears to the NCAA finals in 1948 and back to the Final Four again two years later. (One could argue that 1950 team was the worst to ever make a Final Four. In those days, the tournament field included only 16 teams so two wins got you to the Final Four. Baylor’s final record that season was 14-13.} In the 53 years between that Final Four and Drew’s first season at Baylor, the Bears made only one other trip to the NCAA tournament, that under Gene Iba in 1988.

Another similarity is that Drew and Cremins have pretty much the same strength: recruiting. Their idea of how to outwit the opposing coach is to put better players on the floor and let them figure it out.

What eventually brought Cremins to his crossroads is that the sales pitch that stocked his rosters with the likes of John Salley, Mark Price, Dennis Scott, Kenny Anderson, Travis Best, and others began to lose its appeal. That’s because it was based on how good things were going to be, how next year Tech would take the next step. However, by 1993, Cremins’ body of work was large enough for all to see what the ceiling was. Georgia Tech was good . . . but it was never going to be Duke or North Carolina. So from that point on, Cremins coached seven more seasons at Tech, making only one more NCAA tournament in 1996 and three NITs. If you exclude the ’96 season when the Yellow Jackets went 24-12 overall and 13-3 in the ACC, Tech’s average record was 15-15 overall and 6-10 in conference. After riding high for more than a decade in Atlanta, it took Cremins seven years of mediocrity to wear out his welcome.

So what’s it going to be?

Tha brings us back to Drew. If he doesn’t have a manpower advantage, he’s not going to outsmart anybody. I’m not sure he can sustain a talent advantage without bending some rules. There are kids who dream of playing for programs like North Carolina, Indiana and Kansas. Baylor is not in that fraternity.

So will Drew be like Cremins? Will he plod along without top drawer talent and wallow in mediocrity until the overseers in Waco decide enough is enough? Or will he be like Sampson, who didn’t know any other way to operate? Consider this. We don’t know how many of those 738 texts and 528 calls were for men’s basketball as opposed to the women . . . But what we do know is that the NCAA reviewed 900,000 messages over three years to find those 1,200 impermissible communications. Remember, it only took 10 calls (plus 35 by an assistant) to bring Sampson down.

My prediction is that within three years, Drew will cross the line again, perhaps even accidentally. I just think that’s just the way he’s wired. At that point, Baylor will have no choice but to pull the plug. Anyway, that’s my two cents. What’s yours?