OK, OK, so "hot new trend" is too much. It's more like "somewhat random occurrence that kind of seems like a good idea, depending on the situation." But it happened again, so I'm calling it a trend. Deal with it.
Of what do I speak? The occasional decision by a small Division I school's head coach to leave his program and join a big-six conference school as an assistant. Last year gave us Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard, who left New England to join longtime friend Rick Pitino at Louisville. This offseason, the latest to go this direction is Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna, who resigned his post to become an assistant Dana Altman's new Oregon staff.
There are some differences in the decisions, of course. As mentioned, Pitino and Willard are best friends. With Pitino under fire last summer for his involvement in the Karen Sypher extortion, some speculated Willard's hire was Pitino's way of grooming an eventual replacement should he decide he's had enough of the watchful eyes in Louisville. That didn't happen in 2009-10, of course, and it seems Pitino will be at Louisville for years to come.
McKenna, on the other hand, went 43-52 in three seasons with Indiana State. He wasn't exactly on the hot seat -- 43-52 isn't good anywhere, but it's not quite firing material at ISU, at least not yet. But there's no question the Sycamores program wasn't showing noticeable improvement in McKenna's tenure. The move to Oregon is handy, then; McKenna can jump to a major program as an assistant, slightly advancing his career -- or at least making a lateral move -- without risking the indignity of eventual dismissal from his current gig.
Why is this interesting? Because, yeah, sure, it's not exactly a trend, but it is unusual to see coaches decide to leave their head coaching spots for assistant roles, even at bigger programs. Typically, a coach works tirelessly to become his own master. Once he gets the honor, he's not likely to renounce it lightly.
Two such coaches at two semi-historic college hoops mid-majors have done as much in the past two years. Trend it is not. But interesting? Sure.