Last week, Arizona State announced that Randy Lein’s contract would not be renewed for the 2011-12 season. This move was a peculiar one, and one that has been discussed at length in the past week by many in the college golf community.
Shortly after SMU announced the hiring of head coach Josh Gregory, who had just guided Augusta State to back-to-back national championships, I wondered whether we had entered a new era in college golf. The news that Lein will not be welcomed back to coach the Sun Devils next fall tells me we have.
It’s a new game now.
When was the last time a coach who took a program to 18 of 19 NCAA Championships, eight conference titles, five NCAA regionals and one NCAA title did not have his contract renewed?
There’s no question that expectations surrounding golf at Arizona State are high. It’s one of those places where many think golf simply should be one of the best programs in the country every year – no matter what.
But, the problem now is the sport has changed, and there are a lot of contributing factors that have allowed college golf to go down this path. Coaches have pushed the needle as far as they can to bring more awareness to their livelihood.
One key ingredient to this might be the change in championship format. Yes, adding match play to the national championship has changed a lot of expectations in the sport.
Any team, regardless of ranking, entering the NCAA Championship has a better chance to win it all if it can manage to find a spot among the top 8 after 54 holes of stroke-play qualifying. This has changed everyone’s thought process. Sure, only two programs have won the title in the past three years, and it would be unfair to label Texas A&M as a program that registered a big upset in 2009, because the Aggies program is a major player in college golf. But, ranked No. 14 entering the finals and with Oklahoma State earning the top seed with a 13-stroke margin over the second seed, the Aggies showed that this is, indeed, a new game.
Enter Augusta State, which won back-to-back titles. We have to give much of the credit here to the Jaguars’ program. College golf followers know the Jaguars have been legit, but a Division II school knocking down the Division I powers? That should not happen.
In fact, SMU was so intrigued with what Gregory had accomplished at tiny Augusta State that it moved aside longtime coach Jay Loar to make room for the former Mustangs player, who now is one of the top coaches in the game. And in doing so, SMU made Gregory one of the highest-paid coaches in the business.
We saw North Carolina coach John Inman resign, and the Tar Heels showed they have an interest in being known a little more for golf. UNC made a play for Gregory and Auburn’s Nick Clinard before getting Andrew Sapp to leave Michigan.
Now it’s Arizona State that’s on edge. Sun Devils golf supporters want to win, and they think that Lein no longer is the answer.
There has been some speculation that the University of San Diego’s Tim Mickelson is a no-brainer for the job. ASU might end up luring Phil Michelson’s brother to the Tour star’s alma mater, but there are no guarantees in college golf any longer. If you don’t believe me, ask Oklahoma State’s Mike McGraw.
The Cowboys have been the best team in each of the past two seasons, adding 13 team titles to their trophy case. They just lack the one that comes in the final event of the year.
It’s possible that had Lein’s squad not finished ninth at the Pac-10 Championship this spring – or would have registered at least one tournament victory – the situation might be different.
With the college golf landscape changing, it’s highly unlikely that the new Arizona State coach will come close to the success Lein had in his 19 years. But, the school probably will understand, if the new guy can win a few tournaments on the way to a national championship or two in the next couple of decades.
This won’t be the end of this trend. There are several programs that have always been good and have high expectations, but are just getting stale. With athletic departments steering more dollars toward golf, expect these kind announcements to be more common.