Calling it “the right fit at the right time,” Eastern Washington University athletic director Bill Chaves officially introduced Jim Hayford as the Eagles’ new men’s basketball coach during a Tuesday press conference at the Spokane Club.
The 43-year-old Hayford, who spent the last 10 years as the head coach at Whitworth University, where he won almost 80 percent (217-57) of his games, became just the 17th head coach in the history of EWU basketball, signing a five-year contract worth about $99,500 annually.
“We couldn’t be more excited about what has transpired,” said Chaves, who led the search to find a replacement for Kirk Earlywine, who was fired earlier this month despite leading the Eagles to their first Big Sky Conference tournament berth in five years. “And one of the most exciting things is that he was right in our own backyard.”
Chaves went on to indicate that Hayford’s community involvement at Whitworth – where he put together a “Sixth Man Club,” comprised of boosters and close friends who donated considerable money to the Pirates’ program – was just as big a factor in his hiring as was his character and impressive NCAA Division III win-loss record.
“His success at Whitworth was incredible,” Chaves said, “and his ability to get into the community and get community support was incredible as well. Now having said that, that community just happens to be (Eastern’s) community, as well.
“So, does it make a difference? Absolutely it does.”
Hayford expressed pride in his ability to wear the hat of a fundraiser, as well as that of a coach, and promised to “do my best every day” in trying to make Eastern basketball relevant in the Big Sky once again.
“We are going to compete for Big Sky championships,” he promised. “I’ve never had a losing season, and I’m not going to start with one (2011-12). So, we’re going to get this thing going, and we’re going to do it well.”
Hayford, who according to Chaves was one of eight candidates interviewed for the position, had the players from this year’s EWU team, which finished 10-20 overall and 7-9 in the Big Sky, over to his house for dinner on Monday night, and was scheduled to meet with each on an individual basis later on Tuesday.
There had been unsubstantiated reports that several of those players, include standout sophomore point guard Glen Dean, might consider transferring in the wake of the Earlywine’s firing.
“Every player has a fresh start with me,” Hayford said, when asked about that possibility. “And if there are players, after coach Earlywine’s dismissal, who feel it is still best for them to leave, then I want to find out why they think that and let them know what I’m all about.
“I want to coach players who are happy and excited about playing for me. So, hopefully, with that fresh start, we’ll all get to know each other and see if it’s in their best interest to stay and play for me.”
Chaves met with the players following his decision to not renew Earlywine’s contract and asked them to “take a deep breath,” let the process play out and then let the new coach speak to them collectively and individually.
The players, according to Chaves, did just that. And so far, Chaves knows of no player or players who plan on leaving.
“Something might still occur,” he admitted, “but at this stage of the game, nothing I know of. I get the feeling they’re excited about knowing who their coach is.”
When asked about whom he might hire as assistants at Eastern, Hayford deferred because of “human resource” issues, but said he will announce his new staff within two weeks. Among the names being mentioned as possible staff members was that of former Washington State and NBA standout Craig Ehlo.
And while Hayford refused to name names, he did say his staff will “show a great amount of experience at the collegiate level, the Division I level and at the professional level of basketball.
“And I think as we find all those right people, it’s going to be a staff where you will see great men working alongside me.”
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