Where Did Coach Skinner Go Wrong, and What Is Next?
It was announced today that KSU Head Coach Al Skinner will not be returning next season. KSU and Coach Skinner can spin it any way they’d like, but let’s be real, he was let go.
So what went wrong? I would say just about everything, including the way he was hired. In my opinion, the entire process of his on-boarding was long and secretive. It wreaked of our former AD Vaughn Williams making a safe hire of a coach he already had a relationship with, rather than consulting with others and picking the choice that was best for KENNESAW STATE not best for himself because he blew the previous two hires.
So where did Skinner go wrong? Let me preface this by saying that I can only comment from what I know – which is what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen. Every coach should also be held responsible and held accountable to the “stakeholders” aka the fans, alums, and students. If you’re running a successful “business” and have a good “product”, certain things are overlooked and you’re trusted to do your job (look at Belichick or Budenholzer). When things aren’t going well, and in fact getting much worse, the stakeholders want to see accountability and a clearly defined plan of action, or they will invest their time and money into other products (KSU Football, Hawks Basketball etc).
- Recruiting. It was rare to see Coach Skinner in a gym, and it was rare to see any of the assistants in a local gym except Coach Cox (the third assistant). I’ve spoken to area coaches who have never even met most of the staff. They used the “national” approach to recruiting, getting players based off of connections. Looking back, it was a poor strategy when trying to sell a school like KSU that is not known well and is not in a big conference. When at Boston College, it’s much easier to find a 3 star kid and say “hey, do you want to beat Duke and UNC every year?” KSU’s staff does not have any dynamic personalities to recruit above their heads. The next head coach needs to have strong Georgia ties or hire a staff that does.
- Failure to build relationships. Tying into the first point about recruiting. The first thing his staff should have done is traveled throughout the entire state of Georgia, gone in every gym, every AAU event they could find, and build relationships. The next head coach can’t make this mistake.
- Loyalty. He held onto all of his assistants for all 4 years. Loyalty is good, as long as results are there. I would have gone with younger and hungrier assistants.
- Player Retention. Too many players left the program – and not just players that didn’t get playing time, some were important pieces or would have been important pieces. Look at James Scott who transferred to Temple. If the player retention was 50% better, there would have been a chance we could have seen Coach Skinner through next season.
- Style of Play. The flex offense is boring and a dinosaur. This probably contributed to the player retention issue above. I’m not saying the offense can’t work – Cooley runs it up at Providence, but you need more skilled players to execute it.
- Culture/Identity/Willing to Adjust. Coach Skinner’s identity is the flex, and that is a relic of the past that kids don’t want to play in. Coach Skinner is an old dog, and it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks. What he did at BC wasn’t going to work in Kennesaw unless the talent level was comparable. Every school is unique and it’s hard to even compare Rhode Island/BC from 15-25 years ago with KSU on 2015-2019. We need a coach that can face the unique challenges that the job entails, and can recognize the positives that KSU has to offer, and be willing to sell those enthusiastically. We need a coach that can make recruits believe. We need a coach that can work hard to overcome the negative local reputation that KSU has gotten over the past decade.
- Media Presence. Skinner often sent his assistants to do in-game and post game interviews with ESPN instead of doing them himself. You could say that he was helping his coaches get some practice with the media for future head coaching positions, but when you’re not in a winning situation, it’s something that is glaring. Past coaches at KSU (Preston & Lallathin) did short 10 minutes video pressers after every home game, win or lose. We often never even got written quotes from Coach Skinner following games. The next coach needs to put himself out there and let the fans (AKA stakeholders) know what’s up.
- Community Presence. Coach Skinner did not put himself out there. He isn’t on any social media, including Twitter. Only two of his assistants are on Twitter. To my knowledge, he’s not out there walking the campus, talking to students, or finding ways to get people to games. The next coach needs to work hard to get a greater community presence and increase attendance numbers until the on-court product speaks for itself.
Profile of the Perfect Coach
- Georgia ties
- Prior head coaching experience at some level
- Previous success as a recruiter
- Currently has close ties to pull in players right away
- Solid leadership
- Values education
- Good moral compass
- Can plan ahead and stay ahead of the game
- Good at building relationships
- Active in the local community
- Great ambassador for the program and university
- Flexible and willing to adjust, roll with the punches