The Milwaukee Panthers were supposed to contend for a Horizon League Championship in the 2016-17 season. Their three-leading scorers with eligibility remaining, who could have returned to the team, averaged a combined 37.1 points per game last season. But after Rob Jeter was fired after 11 seasons as head coach, Austin Arians, Akeem Springs, and Jordan Johnson all decided to conclude their collegiate careers elsewhere. Arians picked Wake Forest, Springs went to Minnesota, and Johnson went to UNLV- where Jeter is a new assistant coach. Johnson, who was second in the nation last season with 8.1 assists per game, is the only one of the three who will have to sit out next season.
Jeter was 184-170 overall at Milwaukee, including 112-87 in Horizon League play. In these days, where
coaches are seemingly always jumping around to “better jobs” once they have some success, it is clear that Jeter was very loyal to Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin. After all, he played at Division 3 UW-Platteville, and was an assistant at Marquette, Milwaukee, and Wisconsin. A coach staying at one school for 10+ years has become much more of the exception, rather than the norm.
So to address the question in this headline, the simple answer is no. Jeter’s teams had winning records in 7 of his 11 seasons, which included four postseason tournament appearances (two in the NCAA Tourney). The Panthers most likely would have gone to another tourney last season, if he was not fired. Jeter’s departure means that Panther fans will have to endure rebuilding seasons under new head coach LaVall Jordan. Senior Cody Wichmann is the leading returning scorer for Milwaukee, who averaged just 4.8 points per game last season. It would be shocking if the Panthers finished any higher than 7th in the Horizon League this upcoming season. Graduate transfer (from Stetson) Cameron Harvey should be an immediate impact player for his one season. But he still only averaged 5.9 points per game last season on a team that finished tied for last in the Atlantic Sun.
Many would argue that whether or not it was right to fire Jeter depends on the success of Jordan. But that could not be further from the truth. You have to judge those present decisions solely on the past records and facts, and not on future projections and possibilities. Whether Jordan flourishes or flounders at Milwaukee has no effect on my opinion that firing Jeter was the wrong move. It is similar to the notion that “bubble teams” can prove they belong in the NCAA Tourney by winning games there. That is also undisputedly incorrect as those teams must only be judged on their resumes from that season up to the point of Selection Sunday.
Jeter had earned the right to leave Milwaukee on his own terms. But within a few years, especially after UNLV continues their sustained success, Jeter will get another head coaching gig. During that time, Panther fans will be left to wonder about the success their team could have enjoyed, if Jeter was still their head coach.