Hello everybody. At 10 o’clock this morning I met with Ken Bone to tell him that he would not be returning as men’s basketball coach at Washington State. I got to say that I felt all along that Ken was a good coach and certainly a great guy but it just wasn’t working, the record reflects that, certainly the attendance at our home games reflects it and I felt that it’s time to find knew leadership and go a new direction.
When did you make the decision?
Well I started to come to that conclusion about the last third of the season. We were struggling and the attendance was as low as I’ve ever seen it, not only here but in any Pac-12 venue. That’s when I started thinking nothing short of a miracle like them going to the Pac-12 tournament and winning it would probably change my mind.
What will you look for to be different from Bone in your next coach?
Well, to be quite frank as in all of our sports but I really think in the sport of men’s basketball it’s so much about recruiting and having good, good players. Here we’re going into the field of 68 at the Big Dance and there are a heck of a lot more, in my opinion, a heck of a lot more teams that are in that tournament because of good players than because of good coaching and you get the combination of having both and you’re going to find yourself in the Sweet 16.
So I think one of the areas that really wasn’t up to expectations was in the area of recruiting.
Do you have a list of finalists?
I wouldn’t call them “finalists” but as most of you know from other conversations I always have a short list and I’ll review the process of talking to those people just to gauge their interest.
When did you start talking to those people?
I haven’t really spoken to them in person because I just made the change at 10 o’clock. So I’m in the process of trying to line up phone conversations just to gauge their interest.
Were you in discussions with anyone while Bone was still the coach?
I was not directly in discussions. I talked to some people in person about their thoughts about who might be a good fit and I also did that over the phone.
Do you have a template in mind for a new coach?
Well I think we really need to have someone that is a good, quality coach and has coached at obviously this level, preferable a head coach. Someone who can recruit and can sell Washington State and the community of Pullman to prospects. Someone who has flash, has excitement, you know I date myself but I go back to George Raveling and when he arrived here in the early 70’s and really was thinking outside the box in all kinds of areas that really entertained the fans while he was building his team in those early years. So I think Kelvin Sampson did a lot of the same things and I think certainly Tony Bennett had that same quality, to him. You look at the common denominator of those three, those were successful eras of Cougar basketball.
Do you believe WSU is a place you can win?
Yeah I do, you heard me say that about football, too. I think we can compete year-in and year-out and have those moments when we can have a chance to win a championship, either outright or a Pac-12 tournament championship. I certainly think we can be in the postseason three out of five years. I think those things are all doable, it’s just going to take the right person who has a passion for the game, a passion for Washington State and can recruit. I keep coming back to recruiting.
Ernie Kent has some of those qualities, will you reach out to him?
Ernie has proven during our time together at Oregon that he can do all the things I’m talking about. Maybe a little bit different because Oregon was Ernie’s alma mater and he was a hero there as part of the ‘Kamikaze Kids’ but he had to recruit to what I can safely say was a rat hole. The gym that he had to share with three other programs and so now he managed to win an outright Pac-10 – at the time – championship and two tournament championships, go to two Elite Eights and five trips to the NCAA tournament. So I use Ernie as an example that it can happen, just like you can use Mike Price as an example that you can go to Rose Bowls here.
So in that regard somebody like Ernie that would have a passion for Washington State like he did for the University of Oregon would be someone I’d be interested.
But not Ernie himself?
I think Ernie’s a TV announced now and doing a great job.
Do you plan to let him remain a TV announcer?
I don’t know. If he shows an interest I’d be happy to talk to Ernie if he has an interest in the job. But more importantly I would expect to talk to him about people. He’s been active in the game and is very active in the coaches’ association and various boards so he has a lot of names, he knows people out there that maybe I don’t have on my list. So for sure I’ll talk to Ernie about that, I would talk to other friends I have in the profession. Ben Howland for example would be a great resource for me to kind of get a feel for who’s out there that might be a good fit.
Have you talked to Ben and Ernie yet about candidates?
You’re not interested in either?
If they came to my door and knocked on it and said, ‘I want to be your head coach’ I’d probably have to listen but I’m under the assumption that Ben, if he gets back into it, is probably going to and deserves to go to a program that hasn’t gotten the rebuilding requirements that this one has at this particular time.
Do you think Kent wants to remain in broadcasting?
I don’t know, I think he’s good at it. I watched him during the tournament and thought he was outstanding, him and Kevin Calabro. I thought it was a great team.
How important are facilities upgrades?
That’s interesting because when I share that I think, “OK. What are people talking about? Do we have to have an operations building for basketball?” Hey, that would be great but we’ve got a fabulous, refurbished basketball practice facility that both our men and women utilize. We’re in the process of continuing to put a facelift on Beasley and I think the center-hung video board, a lot of the branding we’ve done in there.
I think we need to continue to address locker rooms and those things but that’s all on our list and all doable. I really think that, personally, Beasley is an excellent basketball venue. The sight lines are good, I mean when it’s full it’s an intimidating venue and we just need to get it full again.
So I don’t know what people are talking about facilities. We’ve got all the sports medicine, hydro-therapy, the brand new training table. We’ve got excellent academic space for our academic people to work with our young folks so I don’t think we’re terribly far behind in facilities in the sport of basketball.
Are difficult travel and chartered flights an issue for some candidates?
Every charter that our basketball staff requested, I granted. And especially on those difficult trips where we were playing on a Wednesday, for example, on the road and don’t play again until Saturday or Sunday. We’ve accommodated all that.
We fly out of Pullman and that’s all worked fine. I don’t think any school in the conference is chartering any more than we are and we have commercial service that can accommodate all of our needs right out of Pullman.
Have you ruled out an assistant coach?
My list is currently all head coaches. There are some assistants out there that could be appealing, but you know what? I tend to like to go with a proven commodity and it’s different being an assistant than it is a head coach.
Ideally I like a head coach that’s come up through the ranks, not always had the silver spoon and knows what it’s like to get on the bus and travel eight hours and share a secretary and all that.
I think that’s good and my record of hiring coaches if you look back, almost all of them including Mike Leach have had those spaghetti years as a head coach and I admire that.
Is Leon Rice on your list of candidates?
Leon Rice is doing a good job with Boise State. I know that Leon is an alum. He’s going to get some looks and he deserves that. He’s done a nice job at Boise State and I really think he was a big part of the success at Gonzaga. I’m not going to go any further than that.
How heavily are you willing to invest salary wise?
I think again, my track record is I will invest. To get the best fit and the right person we’re going to have to spend some money. It’s kind of like an old saying that a friend of mine taught me years ago, “Don’t step over the dollars to get the nickels.” And all we’re seeing right now is nickels in regards to gate receipts in basketball.
I’m willing to be competitive in regards to salaries, not just for the head coach but also the assistants. I think that’s equally as important.
Do you have to go seven figures?
I think it depends on who it is. If you look at our league, they are by and large all seven figures now.
Is Ken Bone owed the full two years remaining on his contract?
Yes, he is. That’s right. And the assistants’ contracts will be honored through the end of June.
Will any return?
That’s always up to the head coach, I never micro-manage. I will, like I did in the football situation, I recommended three assistants to Mike Leach and I spent over an hour with each one of those assistants and then recommended three to him and he chose not to go that route.
And I will recommend certain coaches on this staff to the new coach. At the end of the day he’s going to be responsible for this program and he’s going to be the one who selects his staff.
I really think any coach, the chemistry in the coaching staff is as important as the chemistry of the team so I do leave that up to them but will make a recommendation or two.
Who would you recommend?
I’m not going to say who I would recommend. But if I had one or two that I feel would be a nice fit I would recommend them to whoever the new coach is.
I will say this, that Curtis Allen I have named as the interim head coach to keep the team calm, to keep our two early commitments – we want to make sure that we’re communicating with them – and then we’ve got some recruits out there, too.
So somebody, I did it in football during that transition period and I did it again today and have already met with Curtis.
Will you consider coaches with a checkered past?
I’ll take a look at it case by case. A checkered past, you know there are behavioral things, there are NCAA violations, there are all kinds of baggage that can be out there and certainly I’ll do my due diligence to make sure that any candidate that I’m interested in, we know of any of those types of things and then on a case by case basis we’ve got to evaluate.
Have you set a deadline to complete the process?
I want to do it as soon as possible. It’s obviously my top priority. Even before this visit that we’re having right now I’ve made some calls and done some texts and emails just to kind of set myself up so I can hopefully get together with some potential candidates and make a decision as soon as possible.
I’d like to have it done while we’re in March Madness so we can get a spin-off.
Are any of the candidates involved in postseason tournaments?
Will you let any current recruits out of their letters of intent?
I would have to look into each one of those very, very carefully. Certainly, again, I’ve been through these things before. When I meet with the team, which I will do when they return from Spring Break. There’s going to be all anxiety when you’re playing for the coach that recruited you, that knows your skills and is many times like a father figure. The reactions can be many, like, “I may transfer, I don’t fit the new system,” all this.
So what’s going to be important for Curtis to do is make sure there’s a calming of these young men and make sure they understand that I take very seriously my role of finding them a new coach and that they deserve to be playing in a full gym and playing at this time of the season, which is the postseason.
It hurt all of us that were involved with the program to go into that building and see it empty and the affect that that had on our players, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
If a recruit was adamant that he wished to be let out would you honor that?
I’d have to see. I’ve got a variety of feelings on those and they’d have to apply on a case by case basis.
Have any assistants talked to you about applying for other jobs?
It’s too early. And what I do is I’ll help them. I helped some of our football assistants get placed and I always feel an obligation in those situations so it’s too early right now. This all came down just less than four hours ago.