Approaching the search for new WSU hoop coach

AS MUCH AS you really hate to write off a guy's tenure, the crystal ball looks Windex clear that Ken Bone won't be coaching the Washington State men's basketball team next season. Speculation on a successor has been swirling around crimson water coolers for months.

But given the personalities of those who will be doing the actual hiring, plus the fiscal realities surrounding Cougar athletics, there would seem to be several interesting paths for the Cougars go down.

Let's start with the personalities who will be doing the hiring.

WSU President Elson Floyd blends bold and out-of-the-box with practicality and pragmatism, so look for him to provide one of two marching orders:

  • Start at the top of the coaching tree and work through the list until you find the best fit at an affordable price; or

  • Find the brightest young coach in the nation and bring him here. Why the focus on young? Because this program desperately needs an infusion of energy and a fresh look that immediately will attract high school prospects and resuscitate fans.


    WSU athletic director Bill Moos is like Floyd in his inclination to think broadly, and a marketer who knows how to pitch and persuade. He also has a network of contacts that runs for miles, giving him unparalleled access to insights and observations.

    The guess here is that Moos will shape his thinking around three types of coaches:

    Veterans with personal and/or regional connections:
    Guys like Ben Howland (formerly UCLA), Ernie Kent (formerly Oregon), Blaine Taylor (formerly Montana and Old Dominion), Leon Rice (Boise State), Wayne Tinkle (Montana), Dan Monson (Long Beach State), Randy Rahe (Weber State), Randy Bennett (St. Mary's), Eric Musselman (current Arizona State assistant and former NBA head coach) and Donny Daniels (current Gonzaga assistant, former UCLA assistant, former Fullerton head coach).

    Bright, young head coaches:
    People such as Dedrique Taylor (UC Fullerton), Sydney Johnson (Fairfield), Andy Toole (Robert Morris), and, don't hold your breath on this one, Shaka Smart (VCU).

    Up-and-coming assistant coaches:
    Top-drawer candidates from this pool could include Tommy Lloyd (Gonzaga), Travis DeCuire (California), Damon Stoudamire (Arizona), Orlando Antigua (Kentucky) and Bacari Alexander (Michigan).

    Bruce Pearl, the former Tennessee head coach, is another name that fans have floated repeatedly on the CF.C message boards. Given that the sanctions placed on him by the NCAA run into late August of this year and would require a school to win a "show cause" case in order to bring him on board without the penalties following him, the odds are virtually zero that he would be considered by WSU.

    NOW HERE IS WHERE THE HIRING process will get interesting. With a huge focus (rightly so!) on getting the Cougar football program back to the promised land, two questions will hover over the hoops situation:

    1. How much can Moos afford to pay a new coach? and...

    2. What kind of commitment can Moos make to that new coach relative to investing in the program with facilities upgrades, charter flights and the like?

    On the salary front, Bone makes about $850,000 a year, which is the 11th-lowest in the Pac-12. The new man, if he's a veteran head coach, will likely require $1 million-plus per year in order to be near the middle of the pack. Buying out the remaining two years of Bone's deal will cost $1.7 million, so WSU figures to be in no position to land a Sean Miller clone.

    As for program upgrades, Moos has said he plans to address improvements in basketball facilities after the football operations building, IPF (multi-purpose indoor practice facility), baseball clubhouse, and soccer stadium projects are completed or underway.

    What exactly the improvements to the hoops program will be, and when they'll be launched, have yet to be pinned down. The ideas are believed to range from renovating Beasley to building a basketball ops building and arena, to some combination thereof. And what about charter flights for recruiting and road trips? Dick Bennett long contended that transportation hurdles presented one of the biggest drawbacks to coaching at WSU.

    If the Cougs somehow broke the bank from a salary standpoint and went after the perfect guy for the job (i.e. VCU's Smart, a good recruiter who embraces defense), the guess here is that Moos would pretty much need to have blueprints to present him when they met. In fact, you'd have to think most sitting and/or idle-but-accomplished veteran head coaches would require a firm commitment and time line to facilities and charters in writing.

    BUT... if WSU isn't willing to make that commitment right now, then in all likelihood the next head coach will come from the assistant coaching ranks. While perhaps a let down for fans, that's not such a bad outcome when you consider that the only three coaches to take WSU to March Madness in the last 50 years (George Raveling, Kelvin Sampson and Tony Bennett) were assistant coaches prior to taking the helm in Pullman.

    As much as you hate to see the Cougars losing games right now, and as much as you hate to see a quality guy and basketball man like Ken Bone not get the program over the hump, it's exciting to consider the possibilities for the Cougars as they look for a new coach. Like all things in life, however, dollars and cents figure to be the ultimate determinant.

    Going left to right: Top row - Ben Howland, Tommy Lloyd, Sydney Johnson; Middle row - Ernie Kent, Damon Stoudamire, Leon Rice; Bottom row - Dan Monson, Travis DeCuire, Dedrique Taylor

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