| 03.18.2018

End of the line – Time to move on from Coach Don Verlin


The University of Idaho men’s basketball season came to an underwhelming conclusion apt for the team’s yearlong output. Questions about how a season primed for progress devolved into a great leap backward have one answer. Despite the progress his tenure has seen, Don Verlin is not the man to lead Vandal basketball past perpetual disappointment. To understand what Verlin has done in the past five years requires history’s perspective.
The last Vandal team to win its conference was coached by Larry Eustachy exactly 20 years ago. Since that 1992-93 season, Eustachy has moved from Idaho to then-mediocre Utah State, taken them to the NCAA Tournament, relocated to then-mediocre Iowa State University, taken them to college basketball’s top echelon, resigned in disgrace while leading Iowa State back to mediocrity, battled and defeated alcoholism, took an atrocious University of Southern Mississippi to the NCAA Tournament, and now leads his Colorado State University Rams into the field of 68 as an eight seed.
What has the Idaho men’s program done since ‘92-’93? Lost, and done so with admirable consistency. Fourteen of the past 20 Vandal season have concluded with losing records, our bottom coming from 2005-07, when our men took the floor 60 times in two seasons and came away with eight victories. If you’re curious why the Cowan Spectrum rarely tips half capacity, 20 years of failure and severed regional rivalries more than justify tepid interest in Vandal basketball.
Considering our tradition of futility, Verlin has done a lot well during his five years. Of our six winning seasons in the last two decades, Verlin is responsible for three. He has twice taken teams with rock bottom expectations to winning seasons, and represents the most successful five-year span this university has seen since Eustachy and his predecessor, Kermit Davis.
Yet for all Verlin’s relative success, he leaves no reason to believe he can take the Vandals back to the NCAA Tournament. Most troubling are his teams’ pattern of performing when expectations are low while flailing when expected to succeed.
2012-13 marks the second time Verlin has had considerable returning talent after a winning season, and the second time Verlin’s teams have wasted that talent while posting sub .500 seasons.
In the post-season, Verlin’s teams are nothing short of embarrassing. Verlin has a 0-5 record in WAC Tournament play, with three of those losses coming as a three seed in the unfamiliar role of favorite. In the Mecca of college basketball, the Collegeinsiders.com Tournament, Verlin has one win in three tries. Never mind that no team should play in three CITs — at best tertiary tournaments like the CIT and College Basketball Invitational are viewed as developmental stepping stones. For Verlin, they are both peaks and plateaus.
Verlin’s head coaching term leaves a portrait of a man able to run reclamation projects, but unable to move past mediocrity. Coaches like this will always have jobs – there are lots of terrible college basketball teams — but will ultimately disappoint their fan base and eventually be shown the door. After a 12-win season, despite possessing the WAC Player of the Year and more than replacing the production of last season’s few graduating seniors, Verlin should be no exception to this rule.
As the NCAA Tournament begins, and locals like the University of Montana, Gonzaga, Boise State and the Idaho women take part in what our men’s team cannot yet dream of, Verlin should be thanked for his successes, escorted to his exit and the search for our next Larry Eustachy should begin.
Brian Marceau can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu

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