My colleague at CBB Today, Joseph Nardone, wrote about the decision potentially facing Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams about the soon-to-be-open job in College Station. The Texas A&M Aggies will reportedly part with head coach Billy Kennedy as soon as A&M’s SEC Tournament run ends.
Thursday afternoon, in the first of four second-round games at the SEC Tournament, Arkansas lost to Florida, sending the Razorbacks most likely to the NIT. What does Arkansas have to do with Billy Kennedy? More than you might think.
A&M wanted a new coach. Arkansas has not yet made a decision about Anderson. Yet, which coach did more at his SEC stop?
Anderson, in eight seasons in Fayetteville, has never made a Sweet 16. He has won two NCAA Tournament games in that span of time. This comes at a program which was a national powerhouse in the 1990s, the 1-B in the SEC to Kentucky’s 1-A. Arkansas — since Eddie Sutton turned the program into an elite force in the late 1970s — was a nationally relevant program for roughly a quarter of a century. Then the music died after Nolan Richardson left.
Anderson, a Richardson protege, was supposed to revive the music, but the only songs played this decade have been sad ones at UA. Yet, at least for now, Arkansas hasn’t decided to seek a fresh voice on the bench or a new face for its once-prestigious program.
A&M, on the other hand, wanted someone other than Kennedy at the helm in AggieLand.
Obviously, A&M has the money to attract elite coaches. It just as obviously has a conference, the SEC, in which it is easier to win. The SEC has become tougher and deeper in recent years, but there have been only three particularly strong SEC teams this year, and if Will Wade leaves LSU, one of those three programs (the one in Baton Rouge) will be in an uncertain position entering next November. Kentucky and Tennessee should continue to be good, but much of the rest of the SEC is — and will be — up for grabs.
Texas A&M is a good job, and the Aggies want an elite coach in that chair. The desire to push for Buzz Williams does make sense.
However: This isn’t really fair to Billy Kennedy. Let’s establish that. The man deserved better.
Billy Kennedy made the Sweet 16 in 2016. That’s one more Sweet 16 than Mike Anderson’s full Arkansas tenure. A&M fell off the map in 2017, missing the NCAA Tournament, but it just as swiftly bounced back and returned to the Sweet 16 in 2018, knocking out defending national champion North Carolina — via blowout — in the NCAA Tournament.
Two Sweet 16s in four seasons might be an example of underachieving at Duke or North Carolina or Kentucky, but at Texas A&M, it is a spectacular body of work. This is not a program with a rich or extensive college basketball history. It reached NCAA Tournaments in consecutive seasons in only one six-year period of time: 2006-2011. At no other point in program history did this program make consecutive versions of the Big Dance. The Aggies have never made the Elite Eight, let alone the Final Four.
Billy Kennedy made two of the program’s six Sweet 16 appearances — that’s one-third if you’re doing quick math (33.3 percent).
Yet, Kennedy is about to be gone. Arkansas has been less committed to its future relative to Mike Anderson.
Is Billy Kennedy a giant in coaching? No… and no one is saying or suggesting he is.
However, he very clearly did better at A&M than Mike Anderson has done at Arkansas, and yet it seems A&M wants basketball success more urgently than Arkansas does (unless the Hogs choose to fire Anderson in the coming days).
Billy Kennedy can coach — not at an A-plus level, but certainly at a B-plus level.
B-plus is not extraordinary, but we could all live with peace of mind if we were as good at our jobs as Billy Kennedy was at Texas A&M.
He didn’t revolutionize basketball… but he did well. Let’s remember that.
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