So much for the big splash. You could mop this one up with a Kleenex.
Not that splash matters anyway. Cannonballs and bellyflops produce the biggest splashes, and how artful is that?
No, what matters is whether Ernie Kent can do more than tread water at Washington State University. Or whether it’s reasonable to expect more than that on a sustained basis.
A cadre of fired predecessors – and a short-term winner who beat feet with a duffel full of doubt – wish him the best of luck on that score, surely.
But at last Cougars athletic director Bill Moos has boated the basketball coach he’s coveted with Monday’s announced hiring of Kent, undefeated in his most recent stops at Pac-12 Networks and Root Sports.
And it only took four years.
Yes, Moos cashiered Ken Bone only two weeks ago. But he started getting ideas the minute he returned to Pullman in 2010 and discovered the Cougs in last place. Only two JV postseason appearances and the misbegotten kabillion-year contract doled out by the previous A.D. postponed the inevitable.
Inevitable, meaning both the firing and this particular hiring.
Moos is nothing if not a Kent-do guy, having done this once before at Oregon, where it led to two Elite Eight appearances in the coach’s 13 years.
“He has proven he can win championships in our conference,” a WSU statement quoted Moos, who also recalled – back when he commenced the, uh, search – that in their Ducks days, “he had to recruit to what I can safely say was a ‘rat hole.’ ”
And so, another member of the fired-to-be-hired- by-Wazzu club, following June Daugherty and Mike Leach. Give them your fired, your scorned …
Why Moos didn’t just make the call that day last month mystifies. He’s obviously ensorcelled, and the coach was not playing hard-to-get – he’d made runs at openings at Colorado State and Fresno State in previous years, and acknowledged his desire to more than one person while at the NCAA tournament site in San Diego.
When Kent is introduced in Pullman on Wednesday, Moos will likely explain that any delay was due diligence to make sure Kent was not just the easy hire but the best one.
And that will be true – as far as it goes.
The conference, the million-dollar salary and the charms of Palouse life notwithstanding, there was no “splash” out there to make. The Cougars have had exactly one of those in their basketball history, and that was a retired legend looking to set up his kid in the coaching business at a little bigger store than Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Ernie Kent is not chopped liver – he is, in fact, the second most-accomplished basketball coach the school has ever hired. But no one with a better resume was going to take this gig, and the same goes for more than a few with thinner credentials.
Take Boise State’s Leon Rice, an alum who may or may not have been offered the job first but almost certainly had no intention of engaging beyond goosing a raise out of his boss. Another shining moment in March.
By the same token, without his connection to Moos it’s unlikely Kent would have pursued this job (or possibly been pursued). His heritage is Oregon, even if the Ducks broke his heart by firing him. Coaching there, he’s had a close-up view of the substantial challenge at Wazzu. And if he looked around the department, he’d see that the only investment these days that resembles what’s going on at other schools is for football.
But he has an A.D. who buys into all things Ernie, and has a ghost town of an arena to revive.
Mostly, Moos is enchanted by Kent’s ability to recruit – nationally, yes, but also Washington talents like Luke Ridnour and Aaron Brooks who ramrodded those Elite Eight teams. Terrific achievements that were surrounded by some undeniable underachieving.
Did Kent win at Oregon? Absolutely. Did he crash and burn at the end? Yes, indeed. Fact is, he couldn’t keep it together long enough to say goodbye to that “rat hole” and recruit to the glitziest basketball palace in the West.
Of course, if Cougs fans aren’t kidding themselves, they’ll take that outcome right now.
In the last 20 years, the Cougars’ average Pac-10/12 finish is eighth. Outside of Tony Bennett’s two NCAA teams, there’s been exactly one upper-division finish. Somehow this trend was so subtle that more than a few Wazzu fans thought his jump to Virginia was a lateral move.
“I use Ernie as an example,” Moos said two weeks ago, admiring the Oregon record, “that it can happen, just like you can use Mike Price as an example that you can go to Rose Bowls here.”
With some 3-8s in between.
And that’s OK. The towels have to dry between those splashes.