In 11 years as an assistant at Gonzaga, Leon Rice never asked head coach Mark Few to make a job-related call on his behalf – until there was a vacancy at Boise State.
“I said, ‘I don’t pursue these (job openings), and I haven’t asked you do to do this in 11 years, but I’d like you to try to talk to Gene’ (Bleymaier, BSU athletic director),” Rice said during a Friday press conference announcing his hiring as the Broncos’ new coach. “Mark was terrific through the whole thing.”
Rice agreed to a five-year contract at an annual salary of $400,000, pending state board of education approval. He replaces Greg Graham, who was fired after eight seasons. Bleymaier said the school will boost assistant coaches’ salaries and the recruiting budget. BSU’s three assistant coaches made between $42,000-$74,500.
BSU interviewed Rice, former Montana Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak and Portland coach Eric Reveno. The Idaho Statesman reported a fourth unidentified candidate also was interviewed.
“We got to a point where we could not go wrong with our selection,” Bleymaier said. “I think we made the best choice we could for this program.”
Rice interviewed the day after Gonzaga returned from its season-ending NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse in Buffalo, N.Y. He was impressed with the university, administration, facilities and community.
“I told my family about it, that there were just so many great things,” Rice said. “I fit in this community because I’ve lived in one similar. It’s comfortable for me and my family, which is important to me.”
Rice added that the success of the BSU’s football program was a drawing card.
“It’s going to open doors for the basketball program,” Rice said. “That’s an asset.”
Boise State, 15-17 last season, returns experience with seven seniors-to-be, six on scholarship. Graham’s staff signed three recruits. One of those players, 7-foot center Ben Mills, of Hartland, Wis., asked to be released from his letter of intent but was denied by Bleymaier, who has said he wanted to conclude the coaching search before addressing Mills’ situation.
Rice said he’ll “reach out right away and find out where we are” with recruits. Rice has some assistant coaches in mind and said he plans to “swing for the fences.”
Rice joins Bill Grier, who left Gonzaga for San Diego three years ago, as assistants under Few to land head coaching jobs.
“It’s a great opportunity for him,” Grier said. “I think he’s been pretty smart about it, he’s looked at some other things, but he wanted to make sure if he got the opportunity to take a job it was one that fit him.”
Rice was thought to be first in line at Gonzaga if Few were to decide to take another job. Before taking the San Diego job, Grier had a contract stipulation that he would succeed Few if he left Gonzaga.
Asked if Rice’s departure might signal that Few isn’t going anywhere, Grier said only Few can answer that question. Few didn’t return a phone message Thursday.
“I don’t think he’ll just say he’s not listening to someone, I think he has to (listen), but Mark has done an unbelievable job and he obviously has one of the best programs in the country. It’s a great fit for him and his family and the things he values,” Grier said. “I would think it would be difficult for him to replicate that somewhere else, but who knows.”
Rice, meanwhile, hopes to build a program that can achieve long-lasting success.
“It was a long process (at Gonzaga). Mark has been there 22 years, I’ve been there the last 11, so it’s a step-by-step process,” Rice said. “You want a team the community is proud of and you want them to carry themselves the right way.”
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