Is that really you, Dan Monson?

WHAT'S THIS? Dan Monson gushing over the Cougars? Reading the Long Beach State head coach's comments in the Spokesman-Review this morning, you'd have thought the guy was president of the Cougar Club. Which was a shock to this writer, because a few years back on a sunny summer day at Priest Lake in Northern Idaho, Dan went out of his way, within moments of meeting me, to dis Ol' Wazzu.

Don't get me wrong. I think Dan is a pretty a good egg and an excellent basketball coach. We actually had a decent conversation that day after being introduced by a mutual friend and fellow Cougar who has known Monson since childhood.

But I must say I was positively taken aback by him. When he learned that I was not only a WSU grad but the co-founder of Cougfan.com, he asked if they still played basketball at WSU.

As context, remember that the Cougars at the time had just completed Year 8 of their decade-long slog of winless seasons. Sure, Dan's jibe was an attempt at humor, but given that it was coming from the head coach of a major-college program, it struck me as wholly inappropriate. Worse, there wasn't a note of jocularity in his voice, just unvarnished mockery.

CRIMSON COMMENTARY

This was like a flashback to Husky Stadium in 1983, sitting in the Tyee section and listening to bad-mouthing Dawg fans as Ricky Turner and the Cougs denied UW a trip to the Rose Bowl.

When I acknowledged that WSU's basketball drought had indeed been a long one, but that Dick Bennett – just one year into his rebuild at the time – was turning things around, Coach Dan insisted on digging his hole deeper. "When was the last time they actually won a Pac-10 game?"

At this point, I was thinking to myself: "All I did was go out for a jog this morning and now Dick Bennett and I are being pilloried by the head basketball coach for the Minnesota Golden Gophers."

Talk about strange.

Could you imagine Lorenzo Romar or Mike Montgomery saying something like that? Never in a million years.

Of course, our mutual friend had gone indoors for a minute, so there was no one to help re-steer the conversation.

I was tempted to ask Dan how that decision to leave Gonzaga was working out for him, but as I contemplated the notion, I could faintly hear the voice of dearly departed Brother O'Brien – one of the nicest humans ever to grace Gonzaga Prep in the 1970s – saying to me, "Ad majorem Dei gloriam."

As a devout member of the Church of the Holy Cougar, I wasn't sure which way to interpret those pearls of wisdom, so I erred on the side of not being an ass.

Just then, Divine intervention struck. Being a font of useless knowledge, I knew there was one way to get Dan off his game without coming across petty. So I asked this guy who thinks he's too good to be a Coug where he played his college ball.

Pregnant pause.

Didn't play hoops, Dan informed. He was a walk on -- receiver, I believe he said -- for the Vandal football team.

Good answer.

Our mutual friend then reappeared and the conversation improved. Dan turned out to be fairly personable and quite forthcoming about his uneasy situation at Minnesota.

I never forgot his earlier barbs, though. It wasn't because they were especially inflammatory. If they had come from a standard fan, you'd just think he's a touch sophomoric. Coming from a head coach -- one who comes from a coaching family -- made it nothing less than boorish. Even if he'd had some humor in his voice, the whole thing was just unsavory.

And now this morning Dan is quoted as saying he knows a lot about the Cougars -- his opponent this Wednesday in the first round of the NIT -- "because I'm a fan of theirs." He told the Spokesman-Review his mom attended WSU and that he has other relatives with deep Cougar ties. And when WSU played Kansas State, Gonzaga and others this season, "I watched every one of them as a fan."

Maybe Bennett Ball turned this guy around.

Somehow, though, I think he's blowing smoke. Dan, after all, went to Moscow High and the U of I and he coached at Gonzaga, as an assistant and head man, for more than a decade. His dad, Don, was equally at odds with the Cougar Nation. He was a player and coach at Idaho before taking over at Oregon for many years.

While Cougs and Vandals and Zags get along famously -- and many, including me, even root for the other when not facing the home team -- the fact is that when push comes to shove, some Vandals and Zags tend to have "issues" with the power of crimson. These surface in the form of occasional bouts of slander toward the Nation that I presume stem from WSU's membership in the Conference of Champions.

So when Dan Monson says, "We know it's moving up in the weight classification a little bit" with his Big West Conference team taking on WSU, this old Cougar is going to stop and take notice.

Either Dan is a good actor or he's had a mid-life Come-to-Butch meeting that's finally put him on the right path.

If I bump into him in the bar at Hill's Resort this summer and he's wearing a ZZU CRU t-shirt, I'll know he's legit.

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