A GRIP ON SPORTS
I had to be out of the house last night but I made sure the DVR was rolling for Washington State's basketball game with Stanford at the Pac-12 tournament. After all, I didn't want to miss a game with such significance. Read on.
• Sometime in the next couple weeks – probably sooner than later – Washington State athletic director Bill Moos will hold a press conference or send out a press release. During the first few minutes of that conference, or in the first paragraph of the release, Moos will announce Ken Bone has been fired as the head men's basketball coach at WSU. Oh, sure, Moos will use some other term, “let go” maybe, or something a little less pointed, but the upshot will be the same. Bone's tenure in Pullman will be over. He'll finish with an 80-86 record with the Cougars, 29-61 in Pac-12 play. And Moos will say he's already begun a “nationwide” search for Bone's replacement. Some Cougar fans will wonder why Moos waited so long. Others will decry having to pay Bone more than $1.5 million not to coach over the next two years and still others will bemoan the loss of a such a nice man. But Bone's fate is sealed. It was done in not just by his record but, more than anything, apathy. The Cougars just haven't been relevant the past couple seasons, not to their fan base, not to the local media and, most importantly, not to the WSU students. Look at the attendance in Pullman this year. Rarely did a game draw more than 3,000. There were 1,913 in Beasley for California, 2,113 for USC just last Thursday. Not only did the ticket-buying public stay away, but so did the student body. The student section, packed and dynamic just five years ago, was nearly empty in many games this season. The students that showed up did their best to continue the tradition of making life uncomfortable for the opposing team, but when they number in the lower hundreds, it's not much of a factor. And, if the Cougars don't draw 3,000 folks to a home game, it's a money-losing proposition. That type of attendance doesn't even bring in enough money to pay the electric bill.
• So Moos has to make a change. And he will. Just don't expect him to announce his new coach a day or two after Bone is let go. This isn’t a Mike Leach situation, for a lot of reasons. Believe it or not, the basketball position at WSU is a lot tougher sell than the football one, especially these days. Moos could show Leach what the future looked like in Pullman, with a new stadium on the horizon and a new operations building in the works. The facilities were going to improve. Most importantly, however, the plans were set, the drawings done, the process underway, the money figured out. Basketball is different. Beasley is going to have to change, that's for sure. Improvements are needed, not just for game days but also for the daily grind of practice and all the auxiliary aspects of a big-time program. When Tony Bennett flew to Virginia five years ago on his scouting trip, he was shown a facility that included two practice courts, well-appointed training rooms, meeting rooms, a nutrition center, an academic complex. And it was all contained within the walls of the basketball arena. There's nothing like that in Pullman – there is in Eugene and soon will be in other Pac-12 cities – though Moos would like to make something of the sort happen. Someday. But it's just a vision right now and that's what Moos will have to sell, his vision of the program. That's not easy.
• So what will Moos be looking for in a head coach? The most important thing is someone who can erase that apathy, banish it to somewhere over behind the grizzly pens. Moos' hire will have to inspire the fan base. And not just the fans from Seattle, Spokane and Southeast Washington. He will have to inspire the students, to get them to buy into the program again. They are a crucial aspect of building a winning program, a part that is often neglected. The next coach will also need to understand the Pullman culture or, at the very least, understand the circumstances he's coming into. Dick Bennett (pictured) didn't know Pullman, but he was intimately aware of what was needed to bring success to a small-town, out-of-the-way school. After all, until he got to Wisconsin, he had coached at a couple of those places. The hire doesn't have to be an alum – though that is always a great way to inspire the alumni – but someone who has been around the Inland Northwest might be the answer. And the new guy will have to be able to recruit to Pullman. The current Cougars are not the most talented bunch. He doesn't necessarily have to be able to recruit the same athletes Washington, Oregon and USC are trying to attract – and I have argued in this space before he shouldn't even try – but he has to be able to identify players who fit into his program and get them to buy into the school, the facilities and the game plans. And Moos will have to find this miracle worker within a decent budget, though, thanks to the hole the program is in, it's still probably going to cost more to bring in a new staff than the outgoing staff was being paid. It's the nature of a changeover these days. So if you see Bill Moos in the next couple days, wish him luck. He'll need it.
• WSU: Bone's final game was WSU's 86th loss since he took over and, like a lot of them, the Cougars battled. But the better team (in this case Stanford) won. Jacob Thorpe was in the MGM Arena to witness the 74-63 Cardinal win and he has a game story, videos from Bone and DaVonté Lacy, a postgame post and a morning post with links. … Percy Allen covered the game for the Times and the Stanford angle is covered by the Chronicle and Mercury News. … It's baseball season. And so we found this Pac-12 preview.
• Gonzaga: Jim Meehan returned to the blog for a day-after post on the BYU game for the WCC title. … The Cougars' Kyle Collinsworth, last seen leaving the Orleans Arena court on crutches, sadly has a torn ACL. … Former Zag Ryan Spangler is doing just fine, thank you. … USD is headed to the CIT. It bought the privilege of a home game.
• EWU: With no seniors on the roster, Eastern's basketball future seems really bright. Jim Allen wraps up the season.
• Idaho: The Vandal women had little trouble with Chicago State to open the WAC tournament. Jacob has the game story from Wednesday's rout in Las Vegas. … Josh Wright advances the men's WAC tournament opener today at the Orleans. He also has a blog post this morning.
• Chiefs: The Chiefs ended a long losing streak to Seattle on Tuesday, returned home Wednesday and saw Everett win in the Arena for the first time since, well, since I was employed by the Review full-time. Yes, that long ago. Chris Derrick has the game story and a blog post. … Portland knows who it will be playing in the playoffs. … The Tri-City Americans are just happy to be in the playoffs.
• Preps: It's time for some all-North Idaho teams, with Greg Lee passing along our boys basketball, girls basketball and wrestling squads. … We wrote about Rainier Beach and the trip to New York the WIAA allowed to go forward. One of the assurances, if I remember right, is the tournament organizers would try to have Rainier Beach not play prep schools that operate outside of state associations. The Beach boys first game: Las Vegas' Findlay Prep.
• Seahawks: Well, the Hawks signed a couple of their free agents yesterday. Just not the one that would have gotten the fanbase excited. That guy, Golden Tate (pictured), took off for Detroit and said afterward Seattle just didn't offer enough. Well that's business. And the price of being successful. … Tate wasn't the only Hawk to fly away yesterday, either of their own accord or having been pushed out the door.
• Mariners: Just what everyone wants in spring training. Extra innings. It's OK, I guess, if the home team wins and the M's did that, 8-7 over the Cubs in 10. … Corey Hart wasn't in the lineup and, pardon my pessimism, that's a bit worrisome. … The Rainiers hired a manager. … Is it kinda sad the M's TV commercials are always considered one of the highlights of the season?
• Sounders: Michael Bradley could be considered one of the deans of the U.S. National Team, so when he talks about the Sounders young – and older – talent, he's worth listening to. Bradley and Toronto will be in CenturyLink on Saturday, something Bradley is looking forward to. … The Sounders went big with their latest signing.
• If you were wondering why I didn't mention the Gonzaga/University of Washington Senate bill yesterday, I had this feeling John Blanchette would handle it. And he did. Incredibly well. No one can eviscerate a deserving target better than John. … By the way, the link to the Boise State game? It doesn't mean I think Leon Rice is next in line. It just was meant to illustrate a WSU alum can win in college basketball. Until later …