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Blanchette: Time for Cougs to show coach the money

John Blanchette (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

If Bill Moos doesn’t have a new basketball coach on board sometime this morning, we’ll have to wonder if he’s losing his touch.

That’s going off the wham-bam-dollars-be- damned shuttle he orchestrated a couple years ago in Washington State’s football program. You’ll remember that Paul Wulff was carting the last box of coffee mugs and Cougar pennants out of his office as a workman was stenciling Mike Leach’s name on the door.

Nothing accelerates change quite like the athletic director toasting the future with the replacement coach while the incumbent is still drawing up game plans.

That’s why when Moos summoned the media to an afternoon conference call just hours after he pulled the plug on Ken Bone’s doomed residency as Wazzu’s basketball coach Tuesday, it was a disappointment that a successor wasn’t already signed up for direct deposit.

If anything, Bone gave Moos a longer running start on this switch than Paul Wulff ever did.

It was way back in November when Moos’ remark at a booster luncheon was widely viewed as backing up a U-Haul to Bone’s door. And even if that was a misperception, the Cougars needing to rally in the regular-season finale to avoid finishing in the Pac-12 cellar for the third time in Bone’s five years as head coach was conclusive.

Moos insisted his mind wasn’t made up until the last third of the season, a generous timeline that likely reflects a personal regard for Bone.

Given the season’s attendance – 2,800 a game, down from 7,323 the coach’s first year – everyone else’s mind was made up after last season.

This was a done thing. And as fast and splashy as Moos likes to work, it’s odd that the hellos aren’t drowning out the goodbyes.

But no name yet.

Not Leon Rice – the Wazzu grad who’s already won 21 games or more three times in four years at Boise State.

Not Ernie Kent, Moos’ old pal from his Oregon days who’s been gigging with TV and helping out at the coaches’ association.

Not Bruce Pearl, who seemed to be regarded by what passes for Cougars who care about basketball as something of a Leach 2.0. He signed on with Auburn on Tuesday. Not Ben Howland, late of UCLA, who even Moos acknowledged “deserves to go to a program that hasn’t got the rebuilding requirement this one has at this particular time.”

(Hmm. Does that mean Bone’s successor doesn’t deserve better? Probably shouldn’t mention that in the pitch.)

This will not be heard at the next coach’s presser, but the fact is Moos has a tougher sell than he did with Leach, for the simple reason that it’s a harder job. The last two basketball coaches who had any success, Tony Bennett and Kelvin Sampson, left pretty much as soon as they had that success, largely because they understood the odds. Before that, George Raveling worked his magic 30 years ago, and it’s not even the same game now.

Cougars are still doing backflips over making it to the irrelevant New Mexico Bowl, even if the finish was a disaster. Bone getting one of his teams to the NIT’s last four in New York is still considered a lost season.

This does not mean Moos can’t find a winner. But one way or the other, there’s every chance the Cougars will be doing this again in a few years.

The other conundrum for Moos is gauging how significant his investment should be.

It isn’t just that he’s on the hook for $1.7 million to buy out the last two years of the seven-year contract former AD Jim Sterk – and his president – lavished on Bone, an insupportable (and borderline negligent) splurge. Moos also has to inspire a candidate that the Cougars need a level of commitment.

He thinks he already has in terms of facilities and other trappings, and really they’re mostly fine. Except in the stupid world of college athletics, where anything less than a dedicated, stand-alone basketball HQ and charter flights everywhere makes you a poseur.

And he’s almost resigned to having to pay a coach more than $1 million a year.

“To get the best fit and the right person, we’ll have to spend some money,” he said. “I remember the old saying, ‘Don’t step over the dollars to get to the nickels.’ All we’re seeing right now is nickels.”

Never mind that he’s admitted that even during its best years, WSU basketball barely makes it into the black, much less helping football pay for more oars, javelins and branding. Students can make Friel Court a madhouse if they’re inclined to pack the joint, but they don’t pay the bills – and there’s a $10 million deficit puddle accumulating in Moos’ department.

But then, throwing more money at a problem is the only solution college athletics has ever embraced. Even if it’s money you don’t have.

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