A GRIP ON SPORTS
There was a time not too long ago when each college basketball offseason was met with speculation about Mark Few and just about every big-time job opening. Would the Gonzaga coach go or would he stay? Now that Few has turned down every overture, staying put year after year, the talk has died down. Sure, when the Cal job opened after Mike Montgomery's retirement, Few was mentioned in the media. But no one took it seriously. We seem to be beyond that. However, there is another successful basketball coach at Gonzaga and his name is starting to pop up every time a job opens. It happened again yesterday. And it isn't just a mention. Kelly Graves is being courted by Oregon and the Ducks don't like to take no for an answer. Read on.
• Yesterday evening the Daily Emerald, Oregon's student newspaper, broke the news Graves (pictured) had met with the women's basketball team in Eugene. Later, the Register-Guard had a story basically saying UO had offered the job to Graves and was expecting to hear an answer by today. These things happen quickly, don't they? On Friday Graves, who has guided Gonzaga to so many consecutive WCC titles it's hard to count, was in Nashville at the women's Final Four, talking at the coaches' convention about marketing a program. It's something he knows a lot about. The Zag women routinely sell out McCarthey Athletic Center and, until BYU joined the WCC, for years sold more season tickets than anyone in the conference other than the GU men. (Full disclosure: Kim has owned Gonzaga women's season tickets since the move to McCarthey and I accompany her to the games at every opportunity.) It seemed, like Few, Graves was in Spokane for the long haul. And he might still be. Oregon can offer a lot of money, a beautiful new facility and, thanks to outgoing coach Paul Westhead, some talented players. But Graves has a lot to think about. He has to ask – and answer – a lot of questions. Questions like ...
Is Oregon really a step up? It may be financially – the Nike-funded pockets seem endless – but not in the basketball sense. The Ducks have never had the success the Zags have enjoyed, especially in the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga has a berth waiting at the end of each season. Oregon is usually fighting for a WNIT bid. The Zags are the favorites in the WCC each year. Stanford holds that spot in the Pac-12 and, with USC on the rise – there's a lot of pretty good players within an hour's drive of the Trojans – and ASU, UCLA and Cal always strong, Oregon probably will never be the dominant power in the conference. Sure, Graves and Gonzaga have missed out on some talented players recently – this year Brittany McPhee, a Gonzaga legacy, decided to attend Stanford and Chandler Smith from Brewster picked Nebraska instead of GU – but the Bulldogs have enough talent every year that just one recruit of that caliber – like a Courtney Vandersloot (pictured) – may be enough to get them to the Elite Eight – or beyond – again.
Are you prepared to be a smaller fish in a bigger pond? At Gonzaga, women's basketball takes a backseat to just one program: the men. OK, so it's the way, way backseat. But at Oregon, women's basketball is so far back it's like being in the Airstream pulled by Aunt Louise. There's football, men's basketball, men's track, women's track and, quite possibly, men's cross country and women's cross country. Heck, baseball and softball are now national powers. Women's basketball is an afterthought in Eugene. In Spokane it is a happening.
Is this the best time? There is never a good time to uproot a family, we all know that. And Graves has to deal with that as well, as he and his wife Mary still have two boys at home. I know when I was faced with the same type of decision years ago, a great job with a huge raise at an historic institution, I couldn't pull the trigger because of my boys. To this day I'm not sure I made the best decision, but such thoughts have to be in everyone's decision-making process.
What's the downside? Dick Bennett once told his son Tony one of the reason's he wanted Tony to start his head coaching career at Washington State was because it was a three-strike job. It took three strikes to get fired there. A lot of coaching jobs in this country are one-strike jobs. Oregon's women's position might not be one – though Westhead, a guy with a coaching resume longer than your arm, wasn't given that much of a leash – but it certainly is a bit more dicey than Gonzaga for Graves. If the Bulldogs put together two or three down years, Graves would still be OK. If he goes to Oregon and the same thing happens, he might just be looking for work again.
What's the upside? Do the Ducks have a higher ceiling than Gonzaga? Sure. There is more to offer, more glitz and glamour, in Eugene. That's important to a lot of great high school basketball stars. And it would be easier for Graves, who, like most coaches, wants to win as much as he can, to make another leap to one of the nation's highest profile positions. The jump from Eugene to the top echelon of college hoops is shorter than from Spokane. If that's important, it has to be considered.
So what's the decision? We should find out today. Whatever it is, Gonzaga has been lucky to have Kelly Graves as its women's coach. And Graves has been lucky to be at Gonzaga, a women's basketball experience unequaled on the West Coast. Those two go hand in hand. At least they have for the past decade.
• WSU: Spring football items never stop, at least not for Jacob Thorpe. He held a live chat yesterday along with five questions with new Cougar Marcellus Pippins. ... The Cougar baseball team swept California. ... The Bears are still looking for a men's basketball coach. ... The Stanford women fell in the Final Four again.
• Mariners: So a 4-2 season-opening road trip isn't bad. But it could have been so much better. The M's led 3-0 yesterday until starter Erasmo Rameriz melted down and the A's rallied for a 6-3 victory. This is just another reason why getting Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker healthy is so important. ... A couple of guys made their Mariners debut out of the bullpen yesterday and both did well. ... Sundays are a good time for a minor league report.
• No matter what happens today, Gonzaga fans need to thank Kelly Graves for all the wins over the years. It is really nice to head into an arena as a spectator and know the team you are there to watch is going to win. It's almost like being a Yankee fan. Until later ...