Dana Altman endured a weird season. His Oregon Ducks were 13-0, but then they began to struggle. That unblemished mark preceded a mudslide that dropped Oregon to the bottom of the Pac-12 standings after a 3-8 start in league play.
The Ducks recovered and reached the NCAA tournament. And they looked like a top-25 team entering 2014-15 with Joseph Young, Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis all returning -- a boost for a program that had already lost Mike Moser and Johnathan Loyd. But in the words of Dave Chappelle’s version of Rick James, that was weeks ago.
On Monday, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported that Dotson, Artis and Providence transfer Brandon Austin are not participating in team activities. And now, Altman might have to figure out who will run his offense next year. Austin and Dotson would be major losses, too.
This news broke only hours after Oregon State fired Craig Robinson weeks after the conclusion of the early recruiting period.
A coaching search in early May? OK. (Virginia Tech would like a word.)
But if you zoom out and survey the Pac-12 from a broader perspective, you will notice that Monday’s developments followed a troubling trend in this league. The conference has been plagued by drama and abrupt change in recent weeks.
Cuonzo Martin and Ernie Kent replaced Mike Montgomery and Ken Bone, respectively.
Jordan Adams told the world that he was returning to a UCLA squad that had already lost Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine, but then Adams changed his mind and entered the NBA draft. The sophomore would have been the anchor on a Bruins squad that will rely on top recruit Kevon Looney next season.
Across town, USC standout Byron Wesley transferred. Andy Enfield has a top-25 recruiting class, though. But Wesley and Pe’Shon Howard, who graduated, were his top scorers last season.
Former Colorado star Spencer Dinwiddie turned pro just months after suffering a season-ending ACL injury. Many figured he would rehab, come back to Colorado for another season and regain his pre-injury draft stock. That didn’t happen. The Buffaloes are still strong, but they would be more forceful with Dinwiddie.
With all the recent movement, Utah and Washington are two of the most stable programs in the Pac-12. The Utes might be the sleeper in the conference.
Arizona, which signed McDonald’s All American Stanley Johnson and returned key members from last season's team, and Stanford, a Sweet 16 program that added Johnny Dawkins’ top recruiting class, are obviously strong programs too.
That’s not typical, though. There’s more chaos than certainty in the Pac-12 today. Monday’s news magnified the mess.
So this is a fluid moment for the conference.
Last season, the Pac-12 sent six teams to the NCAA tournament. Three reached the Sweet 16. Arizona lost to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight.
After the Big Dance, the league looked healthy, vibrant and deep again. Nine Pac-12 teams finished with .500 or better records in league play.
The conference might boast similar parity again next season, but it might not have the same overall quality due to personnel changes. Plus, the league’s new coaches joined programs that won’t contend for the conference crown unless they upgrade their respective talent pools. That usually takes two seasons for most coaches.
Every Pac-12 squad dealing with recent changes could benefit in the long run. Martin might be the right guy to elevate Cal. Altman's program could thrive if Artis, Austin and Dotson return. Enfield has a talented young group in L.A. Steve Alford still has an NBA-level prospect on his UCLA roster. Oregon State improved under Robinson, but average just isn’t good enough at this level. The next Beavers coach could be the one who transforms Oregon State into a contender. And Colorado returns key members of a program that reached the NCAA tournament without Dinwiddie.
So there’s hope, just no guarantee.
It’s too early to know exactly how this maneuvering will affect the Pac-12 in 2014-15. Right now, however, things look rocky.
The good news is it’s only May. The bad news is you can’t make trades at this level.