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Verlin takes ‘bird in hand’

MOSCOW, Idaho – Don Verlin already had a head coaching job in his hip pocket.

A deal was struck this winter guaranteeing Verlin the position at Utah State when Stew Morrill, who became the winningest men’s basketball coach in school history this year, finished.

Verlin, who was named the University of Idaho’s head coach Friday, decided he couldn’t wait for his first head coaching job. He was introduced at a news conference here Monday.

Verlin, 42, replaces George Pfeifer, who was fired after two years on the job.

“That was done this winter and I was going to be the next head basketball coach at Utah State,” Verlin said of the re-working of his USU contract. “What a lot of people don’t know about coach (Morrill), coach is a pretty young guy. He’s only 55. He’s got seven or eight years left on a contract. He as well as I said ‘you know, you don’t get opportunities like this all the time. If you feel good about it I give you my blessing.’ That’s what I wanted to hear from him.”

Verlin spent 15 years assisting Morrill, the last 10 at USU.

Many references were made about the Logan, Utah, school at the news conference.

“(USU) gets it done year in and year out and I have nothing but respect for that program,” Idaho athletic director Rob Spear said. “Don was a big part of it.”

Morrill released a statement through the USU sports information department.

“He will be a terrific head coach and we will miss having him as part of our program,” Morrill said.

Verlin agreed to a five-year contract, the maximum allowed by the state Board of Education. Spear wouldn’t disclose how much Verlin will make annually because it’s pending approval from the state board. But Spear said Verlin would make more than Pfeifer. Idaho must pay the final year of Pfeifer’s base three-year contract, $110,000.

At USU, Verlin was considered the offensive guru. He also handled recruiting. The Aggies (24-11), who finished in a four-way tie for the Western Athletic Conference championship this season, saw their season end in a 61-57 loss at Illinois in the first round of the NIT. USU has won 20 or more games the last 10 years including nine successive postseason appearances.

In addition to Verlin, Spear interviewed former San Diego coach Brad Holland, former Fresno State coach and current Idaho Stampede assistant Ray Lopes and Southern California assistant Gib Arnold.

Verlin was one of three candidates interviewed two years ago when Leonard Perry was fired. But he withdrew his name hours before Pfeifer’s hiring was announced.

So what happened? What has changed in two years that made the job more attractive? Verlin said that salaries for assistant coaches and who Idaho would be coupled with scheduling were sticking points the last time.

“The one thing that has happened is we do have more money for assistants than the last time I looked at it,” Verlin said.

“The other thing is the schedule. Rob has told me that I will have complete control of the schedule. The whole deal of it was (it) was more the sales job that Rob and President (Tim) White did on me. Anytime you feel wanted it makes you feel good, and they made me feel wanted.”

Verlin met with Idaho’s returning players Monday afternoon.

Idaho junior guard Mike Hall was visiting family in Ohio last week when Pfeifer was fired.

“He’s (Verlin) got a good resume so you can’t do anything but respect him,” Hall said. “It was definitely a lot different having a brand new coach in front of you telling you what is going to be going on and his demands and what he expects.

“Obviously, we didn’t have as successful a year as we should have, but we made some steps forward. It’s just a big change for me, but I’m ready to adapt to anything. It’s a big change for everybody. Everybody is so shocked that it happened so sudden.”

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