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Wed., Sept. 4, 2013, 8:18 a.m.

A sad departure from Pullman


Change is inevitable, really. Nothing stays the same. Heck, even the Mariners will probably avoid the cellar this season. But sometimes change can evoke feelings of sadness. Today, the change we are going to address does just that. Read on.


• Yesterday evening, about dinner time, Washington State sent out a press release. It contained the information long-time assistant basketball coach Ben Johnson would be leaving the program. And, with that, the last connection to the most successful era in the program's history was gone. But the severing of that connection is not what makes me sad. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Just the fact Johnson is leaving is the source of my blues. See, Ben Johnson is one of the nicest people you will meet in college athletics. A good person who always had one thought uppermost in his mind: It was all about the players. Assistant coaches in college basketball have three main elements to their job. There is the Xs and Os, of course, and by that I also include teaching the game. It is crucial the assistants help players improve. If that doesn't happen, concistently winning games just won't happen. Then there is recruiting, probably the most important aspect of the job for the long-term viability of the staff, so the one that is given the most emphasis. But there is a third, less-reported and probably less-appreciated, aspect of their jobs. Assistant coaches have to be mentors, role models, yes, even friends to 18-to-22-year olds. College basketball is hard, especially at the highest level. The demands of school, practice, games, social interaction, finances all combine to stress the player's nerves. The head coach has to be focused on the bottom line and he has to push the players to the breaking point – and sometimes beyond. That's when an assistant has to step in and mend the fences, rebuild the confidence, explain the reality of the situation. They have to care, really care, or a player will sense the phoniness and turn off the advice. Ben Johnson cares. About everyone. He was nearly perfect in this regard. Just ask the players who went through the program. Players as diverse as Charlie Enquist and Reggie Moore will sing the praises of Johnson. He had been through what they had been through – heck, he played his college basketball for Dick Bennett and we all know how tough that can be – and he understood. Don't get me wrong. He wasn't some Stuart Smalley, touchee-feelee type of guy. He just got it. He told the players the truth and helped them understand the big picture, not just the now of college basketball but for their life beyond. And that will be missed. At least it only will be missed around here. WSU coach Ken Bone told our Christian Caple that Johnson would be moving back to Australia – he coached there in the past and it is his wife Nicky's home. I'm sure Johnson will be coaching again soon, helping young athletes as they make the transition from youth to adult. He's good at it.


• WSU: The Johnson news was only part of what Christian covered on the blog yesterday. He also had his usual after-practice post and another post on the Pac-12 basketball TV schedule. He also has his morning post today with links and will hold a live chat at 1 p.m. And lest I forget, he has his Pac-12 notebook in today's paper, more on the basketball news, how he voted in the Associated Press poll and his Pac-12 power rankings. ... We also can pass along a mailbag from's Pac-12 blog and another Pac-12 notebook.

• EWU: Jim Allen has this story from yesterday's practice on the Eagles and quarterback Vernon Adams keeping their wits about them after Saturday's upset and the accolades that followed. ... Jim also has a morning post with Big Sky links and will hold a live chat at noon today.

Idaho: The Vandals returned to the practice field yesterday, accompanied by part of the UI band. Coach Paul Petrino wanted to get them used to the noise they will hear this Saturday at Wyoming. Josh Wright was at the practice and has this blog post.

• Whitworth: The Pirates have a goal: To repeat as conference soccer champions. Jim Allen has more in his soccer notebook.

• Chiefs: Spokane made some roster changes as the regular season inches ever closer.

• Preps: The GSL football schedule begins Thursday night at Albi Stadium, something Greg Lee advances in today's paper.

• Mariners: Down by three runs, the Mariners rallied to tie the Kansas City Royals last night. But the Royals, battling for a playoff spot, showed their resilience, scoring in the eighth and winning 4-3. The M's once again stranded numerous runners in scoring position, a common theme recently. ... The rosters expanded Sept. 1 and the Mariners will use that change to expand their pitching staff – and the starting rotation. With the addition of James Paxton (pictured), the M's will use six starters the rest of the way. ... By the way, who is really in charge here?

• Seahawks: The depth chart for Sunday's game at Carolina is out and there aren't a lot of surprises. Though Walter Thurmond isn't listed as a starter, he's a pretty valuable commodity, especially now that he's healthy. ... One guy not on that chart is fourth-round pick Chris Harper, now filling a different role with the 49ers.

• Sounders: The schedule seems to be in the Sounders favor as they finish the MLS regular season. They have more games and the opponents aren't all that tough, starting tonight in Los Angeles against lightly regarded Chivas USA. But Seattle has to take advantage. ... With four starters out, the Sounders hope to get Obafemi Martins back from his ankle injury.


• A big day for me today. I get a chance to play a local golf course I've never played before. And just when my game has begun to fall apart for the upcoming winter. How appropriate. Until later ...

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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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