When Jim Hayford was officially introduced last month as Eastern Washington University’s new men’s basketball coach he said very little about the coaching staff he was hoping to assemble – other than it would “show a great amount of experience at the collegiate level, the Division I level and at the professional level of basketball.”
And Tuesday afternoon, he made good on that promise by announcing the hiring of Craig Ehlo, Craig Fortier and Shantay Legans as his assistants.
“We got the staff we wanted,” said Hayford, who accepted the Eastern job following a successful 10-year run as the head coach at nearby NCAA Division III power Whitworth University. “We had over 150 applicants. And while the human resources process is thorough, it’s not necessarily fast, which is what prevented us from making any comment earlier.”
In Ehlo, Hayford gets a highly recognizable assistant who played 14 years in the National Basketball Association and coached locally at the high school level for three seasons.
“Everyone you recruit has a dream of being a professional basketball player,” Hayford said in reference to Ehlo, who has also worked extensively as a color commentator for local and regional basketball telecasts. “But not many head coaches can say, ‘Hey, my coach in charge of individual player development had a long, successful NBA career.’
“And I think that will be highly attractive in the recruiting process as we try to raise the level of recruits we’re trying to bring to Eastern.”
Fortier, who spent the past four seasons as Hayford’s top assistant at Whitworth, has also served on the basketball staffs at Colorado State and Gonzaga, where he was a graduate assistant.
“Craig has great Division I experience,” Hayford said of Fortier, whose wife, Lisa, is an assistant on Kelly Graves’ women’s staff at Gonzaga. “And more importantly, he’s got four years of experience as my No. 1 assistant coach.
“He knows how I think and how I see the game. And he’s also one of the very best in the business at opponent preparation.”
Legans is the lone holdover from the staff assembled by Hayford’s predecessor Kirk Earlywine, who was fired in early March. And while Hayford admits Legans’ familiarity with EWU’s returning players is a major asset, he insists there was much more behind his decision to retain the former player at California and Fresno State.
“I would have hired Shantay even if he hadn’t been at Eastern last year,” Hayford said. “He’s an up-and-comer with a great personality and a great work ethic. And the fact that he’s been there, done that against every team in the Big Sky Conference – and has an outstanding relationship with the current players – made that a very easy decision.”
Hayford, who was on the road recruiting on Tuesday, said his new assistants will remain involved in that process, as well.
“Since I took the Eastern job, I’ve spent more nights away from my house than I have at it,” he explained. “And there are airplane tickets with all four of our names on them to get out and beat the bushes before the month of April is over.
“I’m glad everyone is finally on board.”