During the lead up to last week's BC-Syracuse game -- a homecoming of sorts for Boston College and former Cornell head coach Steve Donahue -- I had a thought.
What if Steve Donahue returns to Cornell after this season?
CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzillo floated the very same idea in last week's Which coaches are on the hot seat? article:
Will he survive it? No. Donahue seemed to have things trending upward entering the year, improving by seven wins last season and bringing back two all-conference players. Instead, Boston College has been awful -- despite what Wednesday's upset of Syracuse might suggest -- and new athletic director Brad Bates (hired in 2012) will likely look for someone new. Donahue could end up back at Cornell.
It's actually not a crazy thought. Cornell is in the middle of a miserable 2-22 season with just one win over a Division I opponent, while Donahue's seat is getting toasty in Chestnut Hill. To gauge just how likely a return to upstate New York would be for Donahue, I went to the definitive source for all things Big Red hoops -- The Cornell Basketball Blog.
My questions and @Cornell_BB_Blog's answers below.
BC Interruption: Cornell is 2-22 on the year with just one win over a Division I opponent. What's gone wrong this season? Has this been a slow decline over the last four years or has the bottom fallen out rapidly?
Cornell Basketball Blog: There are a number of issues that have led to this season's struggles at Cornell. In particular, Cornell unexpectedly lost during the offseason a few of its star players so the team was left with a lot if inexperience. For example, Errick Peck, an Honorable Mention All Ivy League player a year ago was effectively forced to transfer to Purdue. He graduated on time from Cornell, but still had a 5th year of athletic eligibility. However, the Ivy League does not permit graduate students to play in this allegedly academic oriented league. For Peck to stay in the Ivy League and at Cornell, he would have been forced to unnecessarily delay his undergraduate degree while paying a 5th year of tuition (there are no scholarships in the Ivy League).
Cornell also lost 1st Team All Ivy League forward Shonn Miller to a shoulder injury late last season which caused him to miss the entire 2013-2014 season. Peck and Miller both would have been among the league's top 10-15 players this year.
There are other factors, but the sudden losses of Peck and Miller took this team from a .400/.500 level club to its current 2-22 record.
BCI: Is Bill Courtney on the coaching hot seat? Are you expecting the Big Red to make a change at head coach following this season?
CBBB: Bill is on the hot seat per se, but it is not scorching. I think he gets another season. Bill is in year 4 of a 5 year contract. And absent extenuating circumstances like off court issues, Ivies generally do not terminate their basketball coaches in the middle of their contracts. These schools do not have the finances pumped into their athletic departments to "eat" the remaining years on a multi-year deal. The only way I could see Cornell or any Ivy making a change mid contract is if the most significant alumni donors demand a change from the athletic director or if there was some off court drama demanding an immediate termination.
Again, Bill will likely get his 5th and final year. If there is no improvement, Cornell will allow the 5-year deal to expire and will not offer a new contract for years 6 and beyond. Obviously, Cornell could do something surprising this spring. But I would not bet on it.
BCI: My general impression is that Cornell fans have continued to follow Donahue at BC, taking an interest in the Eagles men's basketball team over the last few years. Why do you think he's failed to duplicate the success he had over his last few years at Cornell?
CBBB: Steve is an icon at Cornell. Not only for his championships, but for the classy way he ran his program. And that is also why the country fell in love with his 2010 team.
But it took him his 8th season to win a league title at Cornell. It did not happen overnight. Boston College fans are unrealistically expecting him to turn around a middling/average ACC program in 4 years that now competes with historical national power programs like Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse. I think Boston College fans need to have trust in the process and allow Steve to fill his entire roster with 3 and 4-year veterans. He wants a team that has played 100 games together. That is how he built Cornell. I can guarantee you that Steve did not tell B.C. that he would turn the program around in his 3rd or 4th season. That was not his blueprint.
BCI: If you are expecting Cornell to make a coaching change this offseason and Donahue is available (read: he's fired by BC), would you like to see him back at Cornell?
Admittedly, this would be the best-case scenario for BC as well. Donahue and staff get to return to Cornell -- boasting a win over previously unbeaten and #1 Syracuse to boot -- and BC can move in another direction next season. Sure beats the last messy divorce BC hoops went through the last time around, anyhow.
CBBB: Respectfully, I disagree. The best scenario for Boston College is to let Steve get veterans on his roster. Let his team become the oldest and most experienced team in the ACC while the other schools lose talent to the NBA and get straddled with young and inexperienced rosters.
Cornell loved having Steve Donahue. But Steve left Cornell for a reason. He had other aspirations and from what I understand, his family was ready to leave Ithaca. I think the national media is making baseless assumptions that Steve wants to return to Ithaca and/or the Ivy. The media is also making baseless assumptions that Cornell wants Steve back. Obviously, there is a risk he would leave again if he turned Cornell back into a winner. He would need to sell Cornell on his commitment to stay long term.