Friday, December 2, 2016

Change at the Top

So much to write about right now in regards to the UT Arlington athletic program. After I put up the last men's basketball post, I started on an entry for the women's basketball team. Then came word about Coach Diane Seymour stepping down as head volleyball coach. Then, I don't know if you heard, but UTA beat UT Austin on Tuesday. Then there's some fallout from that. All of which are deserving of its own commentary. So just bear with me as I navigate the flood of topics coming out of Mav land.

On Monday, it was announced that Coach Seymour was retiring. She spent 13 years at the head of the program, amassing a 211-195 mark. She spent the previous eight seasons as an assistant coach under Janine Smith and was a player during the late 1980's, which is the period of the program's greatest achievements.

There's no question she is dedicated to the University and the community, as she was also an Arlington ISD product before starting at UTA. I knew her as a student broadcaster in the early 2000's traveling with the team broadcasting events for UTA Radio. So I don't take it lightly when I say that I believe the change was overdue.

I'm usually one to believe that success is found from within at a greater rate that without, but for whatever reason, despite the dedication, the results just weren't there. Her .520 winning percentage is the lowest in history of the program. She is second in all-time wins, but has the longest tenure of any coach, with Janine Smith second at ten years. She averages the least amount of wins of any coach UTA has had.

More importantly, despite the time length, she made zero appearances in any postseason larger than a conference setting. The previous low was two from coach Smith. For a team with a history of being near the top in the nation, UTA hasn't even competed for a title since 2002.

There were no conference championships in that time. Her highest finish was a tie for second place in the 2006 Southland Conference standings. There have been two thirds, five fourths - including all four Sun Belt Conference seasons - two sixths and an eighth, ninth and eleventh.

Some of that may have been overlooked had her postseason run been better. But in 11 conference tournaments, she sported an 8-11 record. Twice her teams advanced to the tournament's championship match, where she lost both games, both to rivals - a sweep by Stephen F. Austin in 2006 and a sweep by Texas State in 2013.

Speaking of Texas State, her record there is very abysmal. 6-20, with only three wins since 2010. A mark of a good coach isn't just overall record, but one against rivals and the conference. Texas State is a great measuring stick as they have been both during every season of Seymour's tenure.

The overall SLC mark of 72-62 is certainly not dreadful, but when you consider that many schools sponsor and fund volleyball as a counter to keep football viable via Title IX, then it certainly should be a better winning percentage than .537.

Her lone year in the Western Athletic Conference was forgettable, and from a statistical analysis standpoint, one year is not a great sample size, so the 5-13 record is easy to overlook. Her four years in the Sun Belt Conference, which netted all those fourth place finishes, is 44-26. Certainly a very good number, but the .629 winning percentage didn't seem to amount to much in the overall scheme of things. That is especially true to those that follow the sport and know there is a clear divide in talent between the top teams in the conference and the bottom half. So a decent record from a University that supports volleyball shouldn't be hard. When you look at her SBC record against teams with an overall winning record in SBC play, it gets really shaky, 10-20.

No other coach in the history of the program had a total conference winning percentage lower than .700.

Back in the late 1980's / early '90's, UTA was a premier program in the nation, appearing in the top 25 and winning matches in the NCAA tournament. Prior to Coach Seymour's tenure that had shrank to top in the state. But a closer look reveals UTA is no longer top even in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Since 2004, the Mavericks are 0-2 against SMU, 1-4 versus TCU and the more painful one, 3-4 when they played North Texas. 4-10 versus Metroplex rivals. Not only is UTA not in the top, you can make the case for UTA being at the bottom there.

Fair or not, when College Park Center opened, there was an increased expectation among all parties for a better performance on the court. Granted, the team had one winning season in the prior five years of play, and every season since has been above .500, but this last year was a 17-16 record. When you finish a year one game above .500, the world isn't getting set on fire.

One thing that she could hang her hat on, and something I'm sure CPC itself also played a big part of, was that attendance had increased every year over the prior season since 2012. In UTA's final season at Texas Hall, the team averaged 332 spectators per match. In 2013, CPC's first year, the team moved the number to 458. In 2014, it climbed again to 551. In 2015, it jumped to an all-time high of 783 fans per match. However, this year the number dropped for the first time in a while to 722 (NOTE: neither the conference nor UTA site have attendance numbers for three matches, which I believe lowers that number further).

Once again, I want to iterate that Diane Seymour's devotion to both UTA and the sport of volleyball is undoubted. There aren't many more that I have met that can make a legitimate claim to either. But in the end, results play a big factor in the stay of a coach. Under her guidance as head coach, the program has shriveled to its least competitive level ever. Many Maverick faithful had lost faith.

Ever year, there is a huge volleyball convention held at the Dallas Convention Center. In the summer of 2015, I just happened to start up a conversation with a group that just happened to be a university coaching staff from Mississippi at a restaurant. When we brought up UTA and Coach Seymour, there was a general understanding that her job was dependent upon getting results. Those results just never came.

I wish Coach Seymour well, and do honestly thank her for her devotion.

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