UIC coach Howard Moore has accomplished a somewhat uncommon feat by losing 100 games in his first five seasons as a head coach. Moore’s 100th defeat came at the hands of Valparaiso in an 85-56 blowout two weeks ago, and then he dropped his 101st in a heartbreaker against Detroit.
Barring a major upset, loss No. 102 will come Tuesday night when UIC travels to Horizon League favorite Green Bay. The Flames are 17.5-point underdogs.
A coach losing 100 or more games in his first five seasons is uncommon, but not totally rare. Moore is part of an 11-man club of active coaches who have suffered that many defeats in that little time while holding their first Division I head coaching job.
So there’s some company there, but not much. Those 11 men make up just 3.1% of Division I coaches.
Of those 10 coaches who have experienced the same struggles as Moore, half of them were guiding transitioning Division I programs from lower levels of competition. In other words, those coaches were supposed to lose a lot of games in the first few years with their program.
The other five are Tracy Dildy (Chicago State, 108 losses in first five seasons), Chuck Driesell (The Citadel, 104 losses), Monte Ross (Delaware, 103 losses), Brian Katz (Sacramento State, 102 losses) and Jerry Slocum (Youngstown State, 100 losses).
Like Moore, Dildy and Driesell are currently in their fifth year of coaching, so their loss numbers will still grow a bit.
Here is one coach who did not lose 100 games in his first five seasons: Jim Engles, the head coach of NJIT, which joined Division I in 2006. Engles didn’t miss the mark by much with 96 losses, but that’s still impressive considering his situation.
NJIT was quite possibly the worst Division I program when Engles took the job in 2008. The season before he was hired, the Highlanders had an historic season in the worst way possible. They went 0-29.
That meant in two years as a Division I program, NJIT’s overall record was 5-53.
When Engles took over for the 2008-09 season, NJIT improved by the slimmest of margins to 1-30. So the Highlanders were averaging two wins per season as a Division I team, and they also had terrible facilities. The 1,500-seat Fleisher Center is a tough sell for recruiting.
The point here is Engles was dealt as tough a hand as possible. He not only avoided 100 losses for his first five seasons, but he’s had two seasons at .500 or better and made national headlines earlier this season with a win at Michigan.
Moore was not dealt a great hand either. UIC was coming off an 8-22 season when he was hired.
But the Flames also had a pretty good history and high-quality facilities. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, former coach Jimmy Collins made three NCAA Tournaments and consistently had winning teams.
UIC is not an easy program to turn into a winner, but it is possible.
But will it be possible for Moore to turn UIC into winner after a subpar first five seasons?
Of these coaches who averaged at least 20 losses over their first five seasons, some of them have rebounded to have success.
Scott Nagy has been coaching at South Dakota State since 1995. He guided the program into Division I starting with the 2004-05 season and lost 103 games in five years, two as an Independent and two in The Summit League.
Since then, the Jackrabbits have made two NCAA Tournaments and become a consistent contender for The Summit League title.
From 2006 to 2011, Ross did not post a winning record at Delaware. Although his Blue Hens are struggling this season at 3-14, they reached the NCAA Tournament last year. In the three season before 2014-15, they compiled a 62-38 record.
Katz’s Sacramento State program has improved its conference record each season, and the Hornets currently sit atop the Big Sky standings. This is Katz’s seventh season, and it appears he will finally record a winning record.
UIC’s fan base is understandably upset. The Flames’ record in the last season-and-a-half is 11-39.
Moore has admitted the fan base should be disappointed, and you should be believe him when he says he will work tirelessly to right this ship. However, despite what many Americans want to think, hard work does not always lead to success.
There are examples of coaches turning a program around after enduring so much losing over a five-year period. But here’s a big difference. Nagy, Ross and Katz had consistent improvement from year-to-year.
Moore showed improvement over his first three seasons. His UIC teams went from seven wins, to eight wins, to 18 wins in 2012-13.
But since then there’s been a drop off. While there’s reason to think coaches like Nagy, Ross and Katz may have their best years ahead of them, Moore still needs to prove his best years have not already past.