April 8, 2009 in Sports

Blanchette: New guy might just stick around Pullman for a while

By The Spokesman-Review
 

PULLMAN – Since so much rancor was expended over the last guy’s hasty escape, it seemed reasonable to ask Washington State’s new basketball coach Tuesday if he planned on fulfilling the terms of his contract.

And, to be fair, to ask the athletic director if the school was going to let the new guy coach out the actual number of years spelled out in the fine print.

Just one thing: There are no terms yet. No years, no dollars – and apparently, no problemo.

While it’s tempting to urge Ken Bone to hurry up and sign something – invoking the names Mike Price and Billy Gillispie to drive home the point – there may be something else at play here.

Maybe being here is a bigger deal to Bone than, well, a bigger deal.

That’s understandable. Bone spent 12 years as head coach at Seattle Pacific, turning out splendid Division II teams that played in front of 900 customers on the back side of Queen Anne Hill, not so much an afterthought as a never-a-thought. He then took an assistant’s job across town, a bishop’s move into Division I, and then became a head coach again at a commuter school – Portland State – with a 1,500-seat gym and probably a less passionate following than he had at SPU.

So upon his introduction Tuesday, Bone looked at his wife, Connie, sitting in the front row and felt a catch in his throat, and needed a moment to gather himself.

“To realize that I’m a coach in the Pac-10 at Washington State,” he said later, “was a little overwhelming at the time.”

Overwhelming. Wazzu. Imagine that.

The Cougars have hired duespayers before with mixed success, but it’s persuasive this time that they have hit on one both willing and able. There are any number of facets of Bone’s arrival to inspire either faith or anticipate intrigue, whether they might be his Seattle recruiting connections – WSU has had exactly one all-conference player, Mark Hendrickson, from the Interstate 5 corridor in the past 20 years – or the virtual certainty that the Cougs will pick up the pace.

“I’m intrigued with the way the Bennetts got the job done,” Bone said, “but I’m not so sure that’s the only way you can win at Washington State.”

Still, if we can’t be sure whether either side will make good on the terms of their eventual agreement, can we at least ask if Bone’s hiring really means the school is fulfilling its mission, in a basketball sense?

It has been another end-of-the-rainbow week in college basketball. Kentucky, after trap-dooring Gillispie, made it rain $32 million on John Calipari for an eight-year contract. To replace him, Memphis promoted callow assistant Josh Pastner and will pay him $4.4 million over five years even though he has never so much as called a timeout.

And to get out of the news conference with a draw at Arizona, athletic director Jim Livengood threw $10 million at Sean Miller for five years, plus a $1 million signing bonus, another $1 million in annual incentives and $2.1 million more if he hangs around for seven years. Livengood does not, however, have to personally hoist the sedan chair that will ferry Miller to work.

The guess is that Bone will be working for roughly half the $1 million Tony Bennett made here last year, the deep south of Pac-10 salaries.

Thrift is certainly a virtue, but does it signal prudence – or surrender?

You probably already know Sterk’s answer.

“I’m not worried about the signal,” he said. “There are different ways to invest in your program and finding the right person is one of them. The president didn’t tell me I had a budget limit on who I could hire, but I also know the person you have to pay $2.5 million to may not work at Washington State.

“I think there has to be balance. We can compete with the best and be the best and attract quality people like the Bennetts, the June Daughertys, Ken Bone.”

OK, but it’s been a while since a Pac-10 school trawled the Big Sky Conference for a basketball coach – though it worked out pretty well (Mike Montgomery from Montana to Stanford) when it happened. These days it’s as likely that one will be hired on the rebound from the NBA. Bone’s past seemed to be less of an issue with Cougars fans than Paul Wulff’s jump from Eastern Washington in football, for some strange reason, but it was no issue to Sterk.

“I think maybe a guy like that can appreciate it more,” he said. “Their approach might not be, ‘Hey, I need this,’ but rather, ‘Just give me a good gym and a recruiting budget and we can create an environment.’ ”

Bone put it another way.

“I interviewed here long ago, to be an assistant to Kelvin Sampson when he was first hired,” he recalled. “I think Kelvin is like a lot of other coaches who have been here – he strapped it up every day and just got after it, in almost every facet of coaching.

“I think Portland State is that type of job. There are some hurdles. And Washington State is a place where you have to work at it. I feel that fits my personality. And I’d love to be here as long as they would keep me.”

Unasked, but answered anyway.


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