Who’s hot, who’s not: Job security checks for NC’s men’s hoops coaches

No seat is hotter than Kevin Keatts’ at NC State

The heat is on NC State coach Kevin Keatts after the Wolfpack lost 21 games last season. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

The 2022-23 college basketball season got underway Monday, but it’s never too early to do a hot seat check on the sidelines across North Carolina.

While much of the talk this season will be about Jon Scheyer replacing the legendary Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, five other coaches in the state will also be starting their first full season leading their respective schools.

For the most part, the newbies are safe. While coaches are “hired to be fired,” very few get only one year to show they have what it takes to run a Division I program. That doesn’t mean all the seats across the Old North State are comfortable.

Here’s the thermometer on each of N.C.’s 19 coaches as the season tips off.

Cold: Steve Forbes, Wake Forest; Dustin Kerns, App State; LeVelle Moton, NC Central; Michael Schwartz, East Carolina; Takayo Siddle, UNCW; G.G. Smith, High Point; Billy Taylor, Elon

Usually first-year coaches have nothing to worry about, and that applies to ECU’s Schwartz, Elon’s Taylor and even High Point’s Smith, who took over for his father Tubby during last season, should be given some rope to build up the Panthers.

Forbes has quickly rebuilt Wake Forest, which should have earned an NCAA bid last year, and Moton is a living legend at NC Central. Siddle was the Colonial Athletic Conference’s top coach in his second season with the Seahawks, and Kerns has three winning seasons under his belt in as many years in Boone.

Room Temperature: Hubert Davis, UNC; Justin Gray, Western Carolina; Mike Jones, UNCG; Matt McKillop, Davidson; Mike Morrell, UNCA; Jon Scheyer, Duke

Let’s be honest: The seats in Durham and Chapel Hill are never truly comfortable unless your name is Krzyzewski, Williams or Smith, and even then there is plenty of pressure. Neither Davis nor Scheyer is in any danger of being fired after this season because of their on-court record, but things can quickly get ugly even if you are your predecessor’s hand-picked replacement.

McKillop should be fine as well, but he’s also replacing a legend — his father, Bob — and will have to deal with expectations that many first-time mid-major coaches don’t. Gray and Jones are in their second seasons with their respective schools and deserve time, though the Catamounts will need to show improvement on last year’s 11-21 record to keep Gray’s seat from warming up.

Morrell is hitting a point, entering his fifth season, when coaches are often questioned. That said, the Bulldogs have improved their record each season during his time in Asheville and have the Big South’s top player in Drew Pember. Everything points to a good season at UNCA, but if things go sideways Morrell’s future could be in doubt.

Warm: Tim Craft, Gardner-Webb; Grant Leonard, Queens; Kevin McGeehan, Campbell; Ron Sanchez, Charlotte; Phillip Shumpert, NC A&T

Craft and McGeehan have built solid programs with their respective schools, but both coaches are entering their 11th season and have one NCAA Tournament — Gardner-Webb in 2018-19 — between them.

They’re also coaching under new athletic directors. Chuck Burch, who hired Craft, retired after 25 seasons at Gardner-Webb and was replaced by Andrew Goodrich. Hannah Bazemore is Campbell’s acting AD after Omar Banks left the school in the summer for personal reasons. A new boss can often mean bad news for coaches.

Shumpert is the Aggies’ interim coach after Will Jones abruptly “parted ways” with the school during the first week of fall classes. North Carolina A&T has already said it will conduct a national search, so Shumpert will need to prove he’s the man for the job.

Charlotte’s Sanchez, like Morrell at UNCA, is in his fifth season. He’s 50-64 and probably needs to build off last year’s 17-14 season before the 49ers make the jump to the American Athletic Conference next year. One thing that plays in his favor: Sanchez’s contract runs through 2026 and the school is already paying football coach Will Healy to not coach the Niners after dismissing him after a 1-7 start to the season.

Normally Leonard would be in our cold category. He was promoted to head coach in the spring and leads a program starting its first season at the Division I level. But Leonard was charged in late October with driving while impaired and subsequently suspended last Friday for the first five games of the season by Queens. It’s not the best start for a program and coach making a jump to the big time.

Hot: Kevin Keatts, NC State

You can’t lose 21 games at NC State and not be on the hot seat, especially when the last four years of your five-year tenure have resulted in zero NCAA bids.

Yep, things are as red as a game day sport coat for Keatts, though he has been given some slack for having to navigate the uncertainty of an investigation into the program under predecessor Mark Gottfried. Keatts is 25-32 the last two years after posting 20-win seasons in each of his first three seasons in Raleigh.

He has the support of AD Boo Corrigan and a contract through the 2025-26 season. Furthermore, Keatts has a two-year option he can activate. That makes him an expensive buyout — $5.4 million under his current deal and a total of $8.1 million if the coach triggers the two-year extension — if the Wolfpack decide to make a change.

If the right boosters are mad enough after this season, either of those payouts, while painful, is doable.