Leonard Perry Era Ends

He inherited a Vandal program in shambles in 2001-02 (the team he took over had two players that were 6-6, none that were taller), guided them to a 4th place Big West finish in 2004, then hit a nasty stretch the last two seasons, mustering just 12 wins total (including 22+ losses each of the last two seasons). That was enough, as Leonard Perry and the University of Idaho parted ways immediately following Idaho's first round exit from the WAC Tournament this week.

We could probably go into a lengthy explanation describing our theories for what we think happened to the Vandal basketball program during the tenure of Leonard Perry at Idaho. But we won't. However, we know that Idaho has basketball facilities issues, particularly in a conference that is as basketball strong as the WAC. The issue isn't about "game day environment"...in reality the Dome, although not perfect, is adequate as a game-day facility. The bigger issue is the fact that the Cowan Spectrum is not set up for basketball most of the year, forcing the team to share practice space wherever they can find it (not to mention the scheduling conflicts when the ever-popular Jazz Festival is taking place in The Dome during the season). These facility issues are expected to be addressed in the months and years ahead, but the immediate challenges they posed in this much stronger Conference cannot be overlooked, both from a recruiting and training standpoint.

We also know that up until a little over a year and a half ago (June of 2004) Idaho's basketball conference affiliation was "up-in-the-air." All we really knew for sure at the time was that Idaho was leaving the Big West Conference. Idaho was scheduled to join the Sun Belt Conference as a full member in 2005, but for virtually everyone involved that was a temporary solution at the very best. The WAC hadn't yet been broken up by C-USA (taking UTEP, Rice, SMU, and Tulsa away from the WAC and opening the door for Utah State, New Mexico State, and eventually Idaho), and Idaho's athletics future was in limbo. If anything took a hit during that tenure, it was recruiting (in all sports) as prospects had no idea if they'd be playing out west (holding out hopes that the WAC would eventually invite Idaho to join the conference), or in the southeastern part of America (as a member of the Sun Belt Conference).

On the flip-side, Idaho's football coach at the time, Nick Holt, was able to transcend the conference issue and land a solid class that has since become the foundation of the current rebuilding effort taking place in Vandal football.

Of course, Holt also had a brand new weight room and strength coaches as selling points (arguably bigger selling points to football prospects than hoops prospects), with plans for 2 new, lighted practice fields and a new locker room on the immediate horizon. He also had a talented young staff that was particularly aggressive at the recruiting game, and Holt himself is considered by some to be among the best recruiters in the West.

Could, or more appropriately, should Perry have been able to transcend the facilities issues at Idaho? Time will tell. But beyond facilities, issues with respect to player retention (particularly the last two or three years) and a serious lack of recruiting exposure in the northwest (and the west region in general) were also issues. For many Vandal fans, the hope will be that the next coaching hire will have stronger northwest and west regional ties, and be committed to developing athletes for the long-term within the chosen system.

Photo by Larry Johnson / VandalVenue.com
Basketball is key... Idaho Athletics Director Rob Spear, a former CBA basketball player, has stated in interviews on this site that "the biggest challenge for us is going to be basketball", and that the "Western Athletic Conference has a pretty good group of basketball teams." Success in all Idaho sports is important to Dr. Spear, obviously. But basketball is likely something close to his heart.

Beyond hoops, since taking over as Idaho's AD in January 2004, Rob has made some impressive hires. He hired five-time Olympic gold medalist Tom Jager as the Vandals new Women's swim coach in 2004. He just hired two-time National Champion Dennis Erickson as the head football coach (with an outstanding staff of assistants), and before that hired Nick Holt and a rock solid, young staff for him. Who Rob hires to replace Leonard will be a closely followed topic, but expectations are that this hire will not be taken lightly, or for granted.

None of them have been so far on Rob's watch.

But facilities will most certainly be a central issue, both in the direction that Idaho athletics takes, and in the pool of coaching prospects that become interested in this position. Membership in the WAC, with new facilities on the horizon, will likely be enticing to coaching prospects, player prospects, and a fan-base that would like to see a celebration of Vandal basketball...in a place that the great Vandal basketball players, and teams, of the past and future can finally call home. In February of 2005 Rob stated in an interview on this site that "...we need to look at a new basketball arena. I have a couple of ideas there…and working with some potential donors on doing something there." It's an issue that must be resolved, and we're confident Rob will get the task addressed.

From the staff at VandalVenue.com, we wish Leonard Perry all the very best wherever his future leads him. He's a great Vandal (as both a player and coach), who guided Idaho through one of the roughest, and most uncertain, time periods in the history of the Idaho program. He's graduated some great young men, and for a time at least, enjoyed some success as the leader of his alma mater's basketball team. At any other time period, Leonard may have enjoyed more success at Idaho.

Through it all he remained committed to the University of Idaho and his team, and for that we appreciate his time in Moscow.

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