The rumor is out that University of Toledo men's basketball coach Stan Joplin is out.
The signs are everywhere.
Dwindling crowds at Savage Hall. Lack of success in the Mid-American Conference tournament. No vote of confidence from athletic director Michael O'Brien.
Joplin is in the fifth year of a five-year contract extension he signed before O'Brien came on board. O'Brien has still not indicated whether he will offer Joplin another contract.
Stan Joplin is the second winningest basketball coach in UT history (156-113) but has never led the Rockets to a MAC title.
"I like Stan. I think this is going to be a good team. The chemistry is terrific," O'Brien said yesterday.
Yeah, but since O'Brien refuses to address Joplin's coaching future other than to speak in generalities, we're left to speculate.
Speculating is a necessary evil when it comes to Joplin, because all signs point to him not coming back after this season.
That's not the way that Joplin wants it, or how O'Brien is spinning it to the media, but to UT fans and alumni and friends of the program who continue to wait for UT's confusing coaching situation to clear itself up, that's how it looks.
That's how it looked Wednesday night when the Rockets treated a sparse crowd at Savage Hall generously announced at 3,514 to an impressive 85-65 win over Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne.
While there's no reason for nonbelieving UT fans to start believing the Rockets can win their first MAC title in Joplin's 10th season, what stood out was the athleticism and playmaking skills that define Joplin's most-talented UT team ever.
For the first time under Joplin, the 3-1 Rockets have legitimate depth. They won't fall apart if Sammy Villegas or Justin Ingram or Florentino Valencia gets into foul trouble or has an off-shooting night.
How that will translate at the end of the season, when UT traditionally plays its worst basketball under Joplin, is anyone's guess. And it's as good a guess as any why O'Brien refuses to commit to Joplin beyond 2005-2006.
"I think it's fair to say we're concerned with postseason success," O'Brien said. "Our job is to always get to the postseason. Stan and I have talked about the future. No one wants to get to the postseason more than Stan."
O'Brien said Joplin will be judged in two areas in the final year of his contract extension: getting the Rockets to the postseason, and attendance.
Joplin has won three MAC West Division titles, taken UT to the NIT three times and posted two 20-win seasons. He's never won a MAC title and hasn't taken the Rockets to the NCAA tournament.
By postseason, does O'Brien mean the NCAA or the NIT, or a combination of the two tournaments?
"I'll leave it at postseason," he said.
Said Toledo attorney Jay Feldsetin, who represents Joplin in his stalled contract talks with the university: "Stan has gone to the NIT every three years. To hold him to any other standard is not clear thinking."
As for Joplin meeting O'Brien's attendance requirements, O'Brien didn't offer up a make-or-break number. UT averaged 4,433 fans at Savage Hall last season. Through the Rockets first two home games this season, they're averaging 3,256 fans.
By simply allowing Joplin's contract to expire, O'Brien may believe he's taking the path of least resistence. But by being overly cautious and indecisive, UT's basketball program remains in limbo.
Chicago high school star Patrick Beverley made an oral commitment to UT and was expected to sign during the early signing period last month. However, Beverley will now wait until the spring before signing a letter of intent. In addition to UT, he's also considering Purdue, Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois.
Maybe Beverley had a change of heart about signing early with UT because he believes he'll wind up at a bigger school. Maybe he didn't sign early with UT because of concerns regarding Joplin's contract status. It's only a hunch, but Joplin not being signed beyond this season might factor into Beverley's decision to put the Rockets on hold.
Coaching is an unpredictable profession. There are a lot of variables to consider in determining who's hired and fired.
Maybe O'Brien wants to hire his own basketball coach. Athletic directors generally earn their reputations based on their coaching hires. Football coach Tom Amstutz, women's basketball coach Mark Ehlen and Joplin were already in place when O'Brien arrived in January, 2002.
O'Brien has awarded contract extensions to Amstutz and Ehlen, who have won MAC titles. Joplin's the only coach from that group who hasn't won a MAC title, and he's the only coach who hasn't received an extension from O'Brien. Read into that whatever you like.
Other numbers also work against Joplin.
Bowling Green's Dan Dakich, Miami's Charlie Coles, Central Michigan's Jay Smith and Joplin are the only current MAC coaches with at least nine years at the same school. Coles has taken Miami to the NCAA tournament twice. Smith has gone to the NCAA once, and Dakich has won one regular-season MAC title.
Joplin is the only coach from that group without either an NCAA appearance or a MAC title. And that may be another reason why the second-winningest coach in UT history still doesn't know if he'll return for an 11th season.
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