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Gonzaga Basketball

John Blanchette: Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson among many to say goodbye to The Kennel

The merry old times made it back for Senior Night, and don’t kid yourself – winning the game makes all the difference.

But having one of the senior dads whip the crowd into a dither can’t hurt, or an anthem singer to top him. And when Andre Montgomery put the final lick on “home of the braaaaaave” and then thrashed around in the middle of Gonzaga’s hype huddle, man, the joint was lit.

Even the sometime manager got to start and hucked up three shots in as many minutes – and nailed a pretty floater.

So the goodbyes hardly could have gone better. And, other than the final score, that even goes for Marty Wilson.

Saturday night was his valedictory at the Kennel, too.

As a player, an assistant and Pepperdine’s head coach these past seven years, he’s been bringing teams to Gonzaga’s campus off and on since 1985. Which means he predates the current gym, all the banners in the rafters and, well, Mark Few.

He’s been part of the furniture – here and everywhere in the West Coast Conference. Part of the foundation.

This past week, he got fired.

And it was perhaps the most amicable firing in the history of college basketball, which maybe tells you all you need to know about Marty Wilson.

“I don’t,” he said, “look at it as a sad thing.”

Because it happens. Knocking at the door of being a contender just two years ago, the Waves are 4-24 now and while there are, as they say, mitigating circumstances, 4-24 and attendance that doesn’t top 800 most nights puts you in the cross hairs.

Even if you’ve been the best friend – and the best advertisement – the school has had.

There were examples of that even Saturday night. The Waves trimmed a 14-point Gonzaga lead to two with 7:30 left before Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie exerted their will. Two nights earlier, the Waves took BYU to overtime. Nobody’s mailing it in.

“And that shows you just what they think of Marty,” Few said, “and the respect they have for him.”

That the school chose to reveal Wilson’s termination with four regular-season games remaining seemed curious, even a little cold. But surely the intentions were good.

One thing’s certain: He’s not bitter about any of it.

In the school’s press release announcing the change, Wilson penned an effusive thank you that was twice as long as the nuts-and-bolts explanation. It was a valentine to the school that was putting him on the street.

“I’m a Pepperdine guy,” he explained. “Graduated from there. My wife did, my daughter did, my son is a senior now. That’s not going to change. All four of our diplomas are going to say Pepperdine. We’re fortunate. There are a lot of guys who have done a lot more as assistants that never get that opportunity.

“Granted, I don’t want to lose my job. But I look at it the other way. I was blessed for seven years to run my alma mater, to be a leader, to be able to coach, challenge, be a role model for quality young men. We’ll have those relationships for years to come.”

Wilson’s Waves put together back-to-back 18-win seasons a couple of years ago, but also spiraled into a ridiculous run of injuries. Last season, the Waves lost 99 player-games to medical issues. This year, it’s been 66.

“Five concussions, which blows my mind,” Wilson said. “I don’t know if you have five on a football team in a season.”

When Wilson was a player – a pass-first, defend-second, no-smack point guard – it was the Waves who were the scourge of the WCC. He thought the program could get back in the picture, crowded as it is.

“I’m blown away and tip my hat to Mark and what he’s done,” Wilson said. “It’s remarkable – not to just have the success, but to sustain it in domination form. And the same thing with Randy Bennett (at Saint Mary’s). Because neither one of those programs were near that level when I was a player and when I was an assistant.

“Everyone else talks about it. But it’s not as easy as just saying it. There’s a lot to it. There’s resources. And you might have to get lucky here and there.”

Those kinds of resources and that kind of luck eluded Marty Wilson, who refuses to dwell on the downside.

“I’ve told people, don’t feel sorry for me,” he said. “I’ll get another job. There have been a lot of coaches fired over the years. They get jobs. I don’t want to be sad. I don’t want my guys to be sad.”

OK, no sadness, then. But on an evening of goodbyes, this was an unlucky one.