Moos' hint now screams volumes about Bone

IN THE RUN UP to the Apple Cup back in November, WSU athletic director Bill Moos made a remark about the future of Cougar head basketball coach Ken Bone that largely went unnoticed amid the football hoopla. While the comment at the time spoke volumes, albeit quietly, it now echoes with Dolby-like surround sound in the wake of the Cougs' shockingly poor performance at No. 1 Arizona on Thursday.

The Spokane Cougar Club lunch that preceded the Apple Cup came one day after the WSU hoops team lost at home by a point to struggling Texas Christian. And that setback had come on the heels of a lackluster loss at Gonzaga.

CRIMSON COMMENTARY

Amidst the football talk at the luncheon, attention turned briefly to basketball, and Moos told the gathering that he liked Bone personally but had not rolled over the coach's contract with an automatic extension following last season.

"And that's a hint," Moos said.

Coupled with a lukewarm comment about Bone several days earlier on one of Seattle's sports radio stations, Moos couldn't have been more clear had he put up a billboard on Colorado Street proclaiming HOT SEAT FULLY FIRED UP.

For an athletic director to publicly "hint" five games into a season that his coach is on thin ice is nothing short of remarkable. Even more so in this case when you consider that Moos was lauding former football coach Paul Wulff as recently as two days before he fired him.

Now, in the aftermath of Thursday's woeful effort against Arizona, which put an exclamation mark on a forgettable 7-6 start to the season, those four words in Spokane take on an even greater sense of urgency.

Given how the season has gone so far, it's difficult to envision WSU being favored in a single Pac-12 contest this year. In tomorrow's game at Arizona State (3 p.m., ESPNU), the 11-3 Devils are a 12-point favorite.

So the question begs: Barring a turnaround that would redefine the word unforeseen, can Bone survive beyond this season?

WERE THE COUGS to eat the remaining two years of his seven-year contract, it would cost $1.7 million -- a huge outlay for WSU relatively speaking but one within the realm of possibility given the revenue WSU receives from the new Pac-12 TV contract.

After the Arizona debacle, in which WSU scored a mere 25 points, a hoops point total not seen in Cougar Country since 1938, perhaps a more prescient question isn't if Moos is going to fire Bone, but when?

It's hard to imagine Bone not finishing out the season, but more performances like the one at Arizona could push Moos to the brink. There generally aren't many benefits to making that move, aside from soothing fan psyches and giving the AD a jump-start on wooing a replacement.

Based on a cursory analysis, there have been just more than a dozen mid-season dismissals in college hoops since 2003. USC did it last season with Kevin O'Neill.

IF/WHEN KEN BONE is shown the exit door, I won't be among those celebrating.

I like Ken Bone and not just because he's a good guy. He has a great basketball mind and a broader philosophy on coaching and mentoring young men that is esteemable.

His career record at WSU is a little over .500, which puts him in the upper echelon of coaches who've spent three or more seasons leading the Cougs. But sandwiched around his two best years -- 22 and 19 wins -- are one last-place finish and a second-to-last-place finish. And this season seemingly is on track for something similar.

So why haven't things clicked, especially in years four and five of his tenure?

The easy answer is that he hasn't recruited enough good players. But there are more layers to it than that.

Foremost, I believe, is that Bone made a critical mistake when he arrived at WSU in not sticking with the defense-first style that the Bennetts brought to Pullman. Bone wanted to run and to put the emphasis on a motion offense, and he wanted to tap into the top-flight talent stream coming out of Seattle. In the process, he scrapped six years of progress by predecessors Dick and Tony Bennett (though in fairness, that progress had begun to wane in the wake of serious recruiting-class mistakes by Tony Bennett in his three seasons as head coach).

IT'S UNDERSTANDABLE WHY Bone went that route, particularly given his connections to the talent mecca of Seattle. But there exists five decades of data that says you're not going to out-recruit Arizona or UCLA, among others, for the type of athletic talent needed to consistently be competitive with an up-tempo style.

Bone has never directly said it, but given the team's improved defense the last two years and his efforts to install a high-pressure defense this year, I think he came to that realization. He just came to it too late.

Had Bone embraced that pressure defensive style early on -- and recruited to it -- I think we'd be having a very different conversation today.

But that's not how things went. And time waits for no one.

Moos started the clock ticking in November, and now the sound of each passing minute suggests time is running out fast.

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