Yesterday, I got an email from a Stanford alumnus that made me ask myself a very difficult question: Who would I rather have as Stanford men’s basketball’s head coach, Johnny Dawkins or Andy Enfield?
A few weeks ago, I asked whether the Cardinal’s first round loss to Arizona State in the Pac-12 tournament would mean the end of Dawkins’ five-year tenure. The biggest reason I asked the question—and didn’t just call for his firing—was that I was unsure of the caliber of coach Stanford that could attract right now.
But Andy Enfield’s hiring at USC changes things.
With the sharp downturns that both USC and Stanford have taken as of late, the two jobs are pretty comparable.
So if USC could pull a (quickly) rising star like Enfield, could Stanford have gotten him, or someone like him, if we tried?
Maybe some of you aren’t sold on Enfield. To be fair, he’s only been a head coach for two years, and he coached at a school that was pretty much anonymous until its victory over Georgetown just a few weeks ago.
But even if Enfield isn’t as polished, or even as good, as he may seem right now, wouldn’t it be fun to try him out?
I’ve made the argument again and again—and I’m sure I’ll make it a few more times next year—that Stanford men’s basketball has two problems, not just one.
Not only is the team not very good, judging by the zero NCAA Tournament appearances in Dawkins’ tenure, but the team isn’t fun to watch.
As a sports team in a major market, and even more so in a market where the weather is great and there are many alternative things to do, you have to be great entertainment. Stanford men’s basketball has not been good entertainment over the last few years. Even if the team had won a few extra games and squeaked into the NCAA Tournament, it still wouldn’t have been good entertainment—though I certainly would have taken it!
Heck, look at Stanford football. When Andrew Luck ‘12 left after the 2011 season, even though the team was still pretty good and certainly better than Stanford men’s basketball, attendance really suffered.
Stanford football built that 2011 enthusiasm the hard way. For years, the team worked and worked to get better, and it finally earned preseason buzz for 2011 with a great 2010 season and Luck’s decision to return.
But there is an alternative, and it’s one made famous by Oregon football. You can make yourself good by being exciting.
It may seem counterintuitive, especially at a place like Stanford that values excellence, but it is possible. If you can just play an exciting brand of basketball, people will come. At the end of the day, sports are about entertainment. Even if a team doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament every year, people will still watch its games if they’re fun to watch.
Having fans show up to games and enjoy the experience will have a big impact on the recruits. I understand that, with Stanford’s academic requirements, it’s hard to get the best players, but if Stanford football can find 15 to 20 guys per year, Stanford basketball should be able to find three or four.
I’m sure Cal won’t admit to this, but I’m guessing the Golden Bears are using some of this strategy with the new direction of their football program. Is Sonny Dykes a winner in the Pac-12 right now? I’m not so sure.
But Dykes’ offense, which averaged 51.5 points per game in the WAC with Louisiana Tech last season, certainly should be exciting to watch. And for a school that desperately needs to put butts in some seats but doesn’t have the talent to win a championship right now, that may be Cal’s best bet.
So why not take that strategy to Stanford men’s basketball? I don’t know if it could end up much worse than having 500 people show up for an NIT game at the end of another disappointing season.
Sam Fisher lost to a guy in a suit on ESPN Unite’s Stump the Schwab this week. Tell him everything that’s wrong about that at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @SamFisher908.