Kelly Graves is leaving Gonzaga and will become the women’s basketball coach at Oregon.
Graves leaves after building the Bulldogs into a nationally-ranked powerhouse that won the last 10 consecutive West Coast Conference championships and made six straight trips to the NCAA tournament.
“We wish him well,” said Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth in a phone interview after both schools reported Graves’ decision to accept Oregon’s offer.
“We did what we could to convince him to stay. But that was his personal decision.”
Graves replaces Paul Westhead, who was let go after compiling a 66-92 record in five years at Oregon.
Lisa Peterson, an Oregon athletics official who chaired the search committee, said in a news release that Graves was her top target.
“When we started this process and began talking to people about who the right coach was, everyone would say, ‘Kelly Graves’ – and then they’d say, ‘But you’re never going to get him,’ ” Peterson said. “He was the first person on the committee’s radar, just because of all the success he’s had.”
Sources had earlier told The Spokesman-Review that Graves had not made up his mind as of Monday morning. Phone and text messages left with Graves were not returned.
But Graves went on Twitter on Monday evening to announce his new job.
“Thanks 2 everyone 4 their good wishes,” he tweeted. “I am truly blessed to have been the coach at GU for 14 yrs but so excited for an amazing future at UO.”
The Eugene Register-Guard reported that Oregon players met with Graves in a closed-door meeting on Sunday and the players said they expected an announcement very soon.
That announcement came at about 6:30 p.m. Monday.
“Kelly Graves is one of the best coaches in women’s basketball and we are thrilled to have him lead our program,” Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said in a news release. “Beyond what his teams have accomplished on the court, Kelly is a dynamic personality who will engage and energize our fan base.”
Graves just completed his 14th season at Gonzaga, where he led the Bulldogs to a 29-5 record. The Zags’ season ended when they lost their opening-round NCAA tournament game to James Madison.
Graves had a 317-136 record at Gonzaga after he took over in 2000.
The 51-year-old also spent three years each at Saint Mary’s and Big Bend Community College. His overall coaching record is 382-162.
Graves previously had turned down at least one Pac-12 job offer. In 2011 Washington tried to hire him after he led Gonzaga to its only ascension to the Elite Eight. Gonzaga also made the Sweet 16 in 2010 and 2012.
Roth said university officials will meet today to start the search for a replacement.
“We want to move quickly, but we want to make sure we hire the best person for the job,” Roth said. “We are not going to rush, but we are also not going to drag our feet.”
Prior to the hiring of Mark Few for the men’s team, Gonzaga twice hired the next assistant coach in line.
Behind Graves is Jodie Kaczor Berry, who has been with the Bulldogs for 11 years.
She’s been the top assistant, coordinating the team’s offense, since Jennifer Mountain left in 2008 to coach at Santa Clara.
Gonzaga also has on staff Lisa Mispley Fortier, who has coached at Gonzaga for the past seven years. She coordinated the defense. Graves earlier this year said this was his best defensive team ever.
Just down the road to the south is Idaho coach Jon Newlee, who is coming off two straight NCAA tournament appearances with the Vandals women’s basketball team.
Roth thanked Graves for his contributions to the team that consistently draws crowds that rank in the top 20 in the nation.
“It’s been a great success under his coaching leadership,” Roth said. “We hope to contintue to build on that success and make it better.”