Halfway through the Horizon League schedule, it has become more and more apparent that everybody’s predictions for Cleveland State, no matter how low, were completely off. Head coach Gary Waters did warn everybody about it after the Malone game, stating that statistics-wise, the Vikings were ranked near the bottom of the conference in just about every category.
Nobody really believed him at the time, as many previous Gary Waters-coached teams have tended to over-achieve in the face of their initial predictions.
Clearly, everybody was wrong.
The bottom seemed to come in the form of a 70-55 embarrassment at the hands of Youngstown State at Quicken Loans Arena. Like the previous losses at the Q, CSU got up early on the Penguins, only to completely flounder at the end.
Adding salt into the wound was Youngstown State head coach Jerry Slocum, who equated the game at the Q as nothing more than a neutral-court contest. As infuriating as that may sound, the Ohio and Kent State contingencies from the prior two games tend to reinforce that.
The final coup-de-grace came in the form of Cleveland St. Ignatius product Francisco Santiago, who recorded 12 points, five assists and five steals. In the post-game press conference, the point guard said that he longed to be recruited by the Vikings, only to be rebuffed.
Waters’ St. Ignatius target that same year? Derek Sloan, who didn’t play against the Penguins.
Keep in mind that Santiago started his collegiate career at Division II Wheeling Jesuit before transferring to YSU, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a good burn.
It should come as no surprise, then, that when Cleveland State arrived at the ARC to play the top team in the Horizon League, Valparaiso, most expected it to be a bloodbath.
And the Crusaders made good on that expectation, playing every bit as well as a top 50 team in the country should do. Valpo killed the Vikings from beyond the arc and completely dominated the boards to win handily, 77-52.
To make matters worse, junior guard Andre Yates, regarded by many as the leader of this young CSU team, sat out the Valparaiso game with a foot injury. Any extended time missed for him will make even the most winnable games seem out of reach.
By all appearances, the season is completely lost. Even if you chalk it this year to be a learning experience for the young players on the team, what exactly are they learning at this point? To watch leads evaporate and end up losing in the most frustrating manner possible?
However, don’t let this year’s obvious debacle, which has really muddied the prospects that next year is going to be any better, make you believe that Waters is in any danger of losing his post as head coach. To do so, really, is not even a passing thought within the walls of the Athletic department.
The most obvious hurdle is Waters’ contract. It expires in 2019, and it is a base salary of $340,000 per year. A buyout at this point would likely be in the neighborhood of a million dollars, and the only way athletic director John Parry is ponying up that kind of dough is if he tries to defund wrestling again. And he’s not making that mistake twice.
And forget trying to pool together wealthy donors for a buyout. The ones Cleveland State currently have all donate nearly exclusively on the academic side. Plus, a lot of them graduated in the 70s, when CSU basketball was, for the most part, god-awful. A season like this one’s would be considered by most of them as a step in the right directions.
Before some plucky fan decides to start up a GoFundMe page, also consider the fact that Cleveland State couldn’t even get enough donations for a scoreboard at the Wolstein Center. Why else do you think Parry stopped talking about it two years ago? What makes you think your anger will be any more financially fruitful?
Even if by some miracle anyone is successful in putting together that exorbitant amount of more, there is absolutely no way that Parry would even consider it. And there’s a few obvious reasons for that.
As much as the “woe is us; everybody transferred” narrative became played out long ago, that will remain a mitigating circumstance in Waters’ defense this season. And there’s no way to get around that at all.
More importantly, men’s basketball remains a program that gets high marks for its graduation rates. Remember that both Anton Grady and Trey Lewis both received their degrees before transferring. Actually, that’s really the reason why they were even allowed to transfer without sitting out a year.
Even most of the guys who don’t finish their athletics careers at Cleveland State graduate. In fact, the team has been recognized for four years in a row by the NCAA for having such a high Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores. And after the Mike Garland years, which almost got the Vikings in the same hot seat conference rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee just got off of, that’s a real accomplishment.
And for a department that really, really prides itself on academic achievement, you’d be hard-pressed to get rid of the guy who is getting players to understand the value of an education.
You could always cross your fingers and hope that Waters retires at the end of the year. But seriously, if your team had itself a stinker of a season as this one is shaping up to be, there’s no chance you’re going to step down and not take another crack at it the following year.
But say you overcome all of these obstacles, you’re forgetting one last thing. Who would replace him? This is the same school that brought you more than 15 years of coaching misery before Waters walked in the door.
Take it from the guy who wanted Rollie Massimino gone, it’s a crap-shoot. If I’d have known there would be three years of continued misery under Garland, I probably would have saved my energy on trying to depose Massimino.
So, suck it up, fans. Like it or not, Gary Waters will remain your head coach in the near term. This won’t deter a couple of you who are adamant about his ouster. To you, I wish you the best of luck. And a whole lot of resolve. You’re going to need it.
But for most of you, go ahead and do what you do with every other team in Cleveland: Hope that next year will be better.
Even if you think you’re lying to yourself.