Oregon State can't afford not to go with a new men's basketball coach

by: COURTESY OF MEG WILLIAMS - CRAIG ROBINSONBeaver Nation's support for Craig Robinson is spent. Drained of its last drop. Kaput.

There are plenty of reasons why Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis should end Robinson's reign as coach now, but none bigger than the overwhelming apathy for the program.

An announced Gill Coliseum crowd of 1,351 -- eyewitnesses say there weren't really that many on hand -- sat through OSU's 96-92 first-round College Basketball Invitational loss to Radford on Wednesday night.

There was no organized boycott. Didn't have to be. Oregon State's fans have tuned out their men's basketball team. The Beavers averaged 4,005 for their 17 home dates this season, lowest in Gill's 66-year history. The primary topic of discussion concerning OSU hoops since November has been Robinson and how much longer he can survive.

We may have our answer. Wednesday's debacle against Radford -- which won the first postseason game in its NCAA Division I history -- should serve as the coup de grace to Robinson's six-year tenure as coach.

Oregon State's defense was disgraceful. Through 10 minutes, Radford had built a 38-24 lead on 16-for-19 shooting. Not one of the 16 baskets was contested. The Highlanders slowed from their 150-point-a-game clip but still put away an Oregon State team that seemed incohesive and underprepared.

The Beavers entered the season with hopes to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990, or at least the NIT. Said Robinson on media day in October: "I believe we're close. We're still at a place where everything had to go perfectly. But that's OK. When I came, things could go perfectly and we still didn't have a chance."

Things didn't have to go perfectly, not in a Pac-12 that remains subpar in comparison to the best basketball conferences in the country. The Beavers, on par with most of their Pac-12 brethren in terms of talent, lost a lot of close games they could have won with better coaching.

Robinson has often used Oregon State's lack of success since the Gary Payton days as rationale for his own teams' failures. Things were so bad before he got here, the inference has always been, that it's going to take more time to climb out of the rubble.

The first season in 2007-08 -- following an OSU team that went winless in Pac-10 play -- was promising, with 18 wins and the five-game run to the CBI championship. Recruiting the first couple of years was encouraging, too, landing such as Jared Cunningham, Roberto Nelson, Angus Brandt and Eric Moreland.

But the Beavers have never taken the strides necessary to get over the hump. Even this year's veteran club went only 16-16 and 8-10 in Pac-12 action. During his six seasons, Robinson is 94-105 overall and 39-69 in conference play.

Departing from this year's team are seniors Nelson, Brandt and Devon Collier, and perhaps junior Moreland, too. Your 2014-15 starting five for the Beavers, should Moreland leave? Probably guards Hallice Cooke and Malcolm Duvivier, center Daniel Gomis, forwards Langston Morris-Walker and Jarmal Reid, or perhaps Olaf Schaftenaar. That's scary.

(By the way: why didn't the Beavers redshirt 7-foot freshman Cheikh N'Diaye, who played 70 minutes all season?)

Robinson is a smart guy, genial and well-spoken, with experience in the financial world and a Princeton pedigree. I question whether he's a smart basketball coach, though. Too many times, decisions he makes during games leave me scratching my head.

And no, suggestions that he hire an X's and O's assistant to help with such things don't wash. If the head guy doesn't know when to foul inside a minute and your team trailing by five points, or when to bring out the halfcourt trap or run the high pick-and-roll, the guy in the next seat won't help much.

The dilemma, of course, is Robinson's contract -- three more years at about $4 million, with no buyout clause. It's the albatross around De Carolis' neck, given that the AD gave his coach a pair of contract extensions.

De Carolis went into the season thinking even if things went totally haywire this season, he couldn't afford to let Robinson go with that much salary to eat. Now, De Carolis can't afford not to.

If Robinson were to return, the Beavers would have to pay fans to attend games next season. There is way more buzz around the women's program than the men's in Corvallis. And this isn't Tennessee.

There's an out here. Princeton is very interested in hiring Robinson to replace athletic director Gary Walters, who will retire on June 30. With Robinson's business acumen, communication skills and background as a former star player for the Tigers, it might be a perfect marriage. Plus, Robinson's daughter, Leslie, will enroll as a freshman at Princeton in the fall.

Problem is, Robinson would probably make $300,000 to $400,000 a year at Princeton, leaving a lot of money on the table in Corvallis.

But Robinson is in good shape financially. Maybe he would be willing to negotiate a buyout that works for both sides. This is the one time his alma mater will have an AD job open. And he's smart enough to know that such a golden parachute won't be available a year from now.

It's been written that strong candidates to be Robinson's successor wouldn't be available. Balderdash. The new $15-million training facility -- yes, credit Robinson for that -- makes it a more attractive job than it was six years ago. And the Beavers won't be coming off an 0-18 conference season, either.

A new coach can invigorate the program and its fan base. Oregon State needs to start over. Another step backward simply can't happen, no matter what the cost.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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