It is Championship Week. I know that the first thing on your mind is, “Who will be the next head coach of the Washington State Cougars?” Who cares about Duke and North Carolina in an ACC Tournament semifinal with Zion Williamson, anyway?
All kidding aside, seasons are ending left and right. Programs are reassessing their next moves. Washington State made one move to fire Ernie Kent on Thursday. As anyone in college sports will tell you, if an athletic director fires a coach, s/he better know what to do next. More precisely, if an athletic director fires a coach, s/he needs to know a specific coach can be obtained for the right price.
The coach who is ultimately selected in a coaching search might not be the Plan-A option, but the coach must meet certain standards of quality. The athletic director has to know that the larger process will produce a coach who will deliver a considerable upgrade over the predecessor.
What does a coaching search look like, strictly in terms of the candidates courted for the job? It starts with the people who aren’t realistic candidates, but whose quality is so substantial that you have to ask them if they would consider taking your job. The only bad question is the one not asked.
Naturally, Washington State isn’t UCLA, so it can’t ask Gregg Marshall or Eric Musselman — there would be no point in trying to go that far up the ladder. The Cougars need to consider realistic candidates at the top of their list, even though said options would probably still turn them down.
If those candidates say no, the athletic director has to be prepared to move to the more likely candidates, the ones who would be more inclined to take the job. Building a list full of quality choices enables an AD to remain satisfied even if the first few options on this more “essential” list say no.
With that background structure in mind, this is one person’s recommendation for Washington State athletic director Pat Chun:
TIER I — COACHES UNLIKELY TO SAY YES, BUT WHO NEED TO BE FORCED TO SAY NO
The Cougars and Chun have to call Craig Smith of Utah State, who has done a spectacular job with the Aggies in Year 1 in Logan, Utah. Utah State has looked sharp and prepared this season, which — in a debut go-round for a head coach — leaves an undeniably deep mark on outside observers. Smith is just one year into his tenure, so he would naturally be inclined to stay longer at Utah State. However, Wazzu needs to make him turn down the job.
Also on the “ya gotta call this guy” list is Randy Bennett of Saint Mary’s. Yes, he turned down the California job which instead went to Wyking Jones a few years ago. Nevertheless, an AD at a struggling Pac-12 program needs to see if Bennett’s Australian pipeline can flow through Pullman. Bennett’s coaching acumen remains considerable, as shown in the Saint Mary’s win over Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament final on Tuesday. Make him say no.
A third entry on this list is Porter Moser of Loyola-Chicago. Would he go from Chicago to Pullman? Very probably not, but again, this is a coaching candidate you at least ask instead of never picking up the phone. Moser is a Rick Majerus disciple, but Utah is still being coached by Larry Krystkowiak. Majerus made a national title game at Utah. Why couldn’t Moser — who made a Final Four at a Missouri Valley Conference school — make the Final Four in the Palouse if he really is as good as the 2018 season indicated?
Those are three “dating a supermodel” candidates. They would all say no… we think… but life can be full of surprises. Ask them. It cannot hurt.
TIER II — REALISTIC CANDIDATES OF CONSIDERABLE QUALITY
There still has not been a women’s coach of a Division I men’s college basketball team. Some people in the crowd will reflexively view the naming of a female coach to lead a men’s D-I program as a publicity stunt, but a courageous athletic director will confidently select such a coach knowing her coaching chops will hold up under scrutiny.
Being realistic, the barrier-breaker for a female coach isn’t likely to come at a place such as Duke or Kentucky. It probably has to come in an out-of-the-way location where media coverage won’t be suffocating or unbearable… and where basketball expectations aren’t through the roof.
Washington State would be a great place to try this idea.
Come on down, Nancy Lieberman (who is 60 years old, hardly too old to coach for a decade if she is highly successful).
Consider us, Becky Hammon, whose name was linked to Colorado State in a previous coaching carousel.
Those two coaches would be superb choices on the raw basketball merits — they have forgotten more about the sport than I will ever learn.
At least two other names on the “realistic list” are worth considering.
Start here, via Christopher Boan, who covers University of Arizona athletics and other sports beats. He knows the ins and outs of the Pac-12, so his recommendation is trustworthy:
Travis DeCuire should be the first guy Pat Chun calls to replace Ernie Kent at Washington State. Dude can flat-out coach.
— Christopher Boan (@cgboan) March 15, 2019
The other name I have to include on this list: Luke Yaklich.
Who? He is John Beilein’s defensive coordinator at Michigan, the man who helped UM make the national championship game last season and has transformed the Wolverines with his defensive acumen. He deserves a head coaching job and — interestingly enough — would be able to sell an AD on his ability to teach defense at a level approaching Tony Bennett, who did so well at Wazzu a decade ago.
Yaklich is a better stylistic fit for Washington State than many might realize.
Those are your seven primary candidates — 3 fantasy “supermodel” people who must be forced to say no, followed by four more realistic candidates who possess gleaming credentials.
Let’s see what Washington State and Pat Chun choose to do.
You may now resume thinking about Duke and Carolina in the ACC semifinals.
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