The Loop

Greater expections for college golf coaches

For those who haven't seen the Voices piece I wrote for Golf World this week, here are my thoughts about the changing nature of coaching college golf.

In 19 years as the men's coach at Arizona State, Randy Lein led the Sun Devils to 44 tournament wins. He also claimed eight Pac-10 championships, seven Pac-10 coach-of-the-year awards and one top prize: the 1996 national title. Having made his 18th appearance with ASU at the NCAA Championship last month, the Golf Coaches Association of America's Hall-of-Famer was upbeat when he met with officials in the ASU athletic department for his annual review last month, only to have the conversation take an abrupt turn.

"They said, We're not renewing your contract and going in a different direction,' " Lein said. "I was not expecting that."

By Lein's own admission, the 2010-11 season had not been what he was expecting, his experienced squad never quite finding its way. A ninth place at the conference championship, after finishing no worse than fourth the previous eight seasons, hardly minimized the disappointment. Still, having rallied the team at NCAA regionals, Lein was ready to move ahead to the fall.

Such is the changing nature of coaching in college golf. Until recently, Lein wouldn't have had reason to think his job was at risk, nor would his coaching brethren if they possessed the 60-year-old's résumé. The reasonable expectation was that if you graduated the majority of your players, occasionally won a conference title, qualified for nationals on a semi-regular basis and treated boosters kindly, you had earned the equivalent of tenure at your school.

In the last decade, though, college golf has gained the attention of athletic departments interested in improving the profile of their non-revenue sports programs. Several schools have increased funding for college golf in hopes their men's and women's teams would become competitive nationally. Practice facilities have been built across the country, value being placed on a quality college golf program.

With the increased interest has come increased expectations. Schools making six- and seven-figure investments are looking for a return and when they aren't sure they're getting it, they are more willing to make "corrections" to speed the process along.

"We're not exactly college football or basketball just yet, but it's moving in that direction," said one coach of a perennial top-25 program who requested anonymity rather than rile his school's senior administrators. "There's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mindset seeping in."

So it was that North Carolina and men's coach John â¿¿Inman parted ways last month after 13 seasons, even though the Tar Heel alum was only five years removed from being the first person to win an ACC conference title as a coach after having done so as a player.

Like Lein, Jay Loar met with his administration at SMU figuring he had done enough to let him return for a 14th season with the Mustangs. Instead, he too learned his contract wasn't being renewed.

SMU athletic director Steve Orsini proceeded to do what ADs have become famous for with higher profile sports: He found a young talent and made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Enter Josh Gregory, an SMU alum fresh off back-to-back NCAA titles at Augusta State. For what sources say is a deal that will pay Gregory about $200,000 a year for five years—making him one of the highest-paid coaches in the country—Orsini had his man.

Gregory's deal, however, likely comes with some caveats not found in the fine print. Expectations are he will turn the Mustangs into a consistent top-25 team, not unlike his success at Augusta State. Should he fail to do so? Well, there will be consequences.

"Whoever takes my place," Lein says, "I'm sure they know there is going to be a lot of pressure to win."

And if he doesn't, he isn't likely to have the job for long.