Craig Ehlo’s brief, bizarre flirtation with the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers was rebuffed Monday when the assistant’s job he apparently thought he was going to get on head coach Byron Scott’s staff, went instead to Nate Tibbetts, the coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s D-League team the past two seasons.
Ehlo, in his first year as an assistant at Eastern Washington University, had, according to a source within the EWU athletic department, accepted the Cavaliers job last weekend. But that turned out not to be the case, according to Ehlo, who interviewed with Scott last Friday but was never offered the job.
Ehlo admitted, however, that he fully expected to be hired and went so far as to clean out his office at Eastern.
“Just the way Byron called me on such short notice and told me, because of the lockout, they were going to fill the job pretty quickly,” Ehlo said when asked what made him jump to such a premature conclusion. “It led me to believe I was the top candidate. I thought for sure, because of him saying it would be a good fit – and because of my past association with Cleveland – that the job was mine.”
Eastern’s first-year head coach, Jim Hayford, who hired Ehlo as one of his assistants shortly after taking over the Eagles program last March, was originally mystified by Monday’s developments.
Hayford, who had refused to publicly confirm or deny the earlier report that Ehlo was leaving, admitted on Monday that Ehlo had told him he was taking the job with the Cavaliers before cleaning out his office in Cheney.
“Obviously, something changed,” said Hayford, who was on the road recruiting Monday morning when Ehlo informed him he did not get the Cavaliers’ job and asked is he still had a spot on the staff at Eastern.
Hayford said he told Ehlo he could return, but admitted he might not have been so lenient were Ehlo not such a close, longtime friend and quality person and coach.
“Obviously, this has not been an ideal situation, and it’s been a big distraction the last five days,” Hayford added. “But the same reasons I hired Craig are the same reasons I’m glad he is staying with us. And I have a firm commitment from him that he will not pursue any other jobs the rest of the season.”
Hayford said his players were told of Ehlo’s expected departure, and added their emotions ran “from disappointment in his decision to leave, to happiness for him returning to the NBA.”
“The players are resilient; they’ll be fine,” Hayford explained. “Craig pursued an opportunity he thought was really within his grasp, but it didn’t work out. Now he’s back, and it’s time to move on.
“And what will make it all work is the quality person Craig is.”
Ehlo, who played collegiately at Washington State University for two years, spent 14 seasons as a player in the NBA – including seven with Cleveland – before retiring in Spokane, has made it clear that his long-term goal is to return to the NBA as a coach.
“I’m disappointed in the fact that I didn’t get a job that would have been a dream for me – being back in Cleveland and everything,” Ehlo said. “But I’m also very excited to still be in a situation where I can be a part of what Coach Hayford is starting at Eastern Washington.
“And that excitement overweighs the emotion of disappointment.”