Washington State and San Francisco’s Kyle Smith are finalizing a deal that would make Smith the Cougars’ next men’s basketball coach, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports reported Tuesday.
According to a Spokesman-Review source, the Cougars aren’t prepared to announce a men’s basketball hire at the moment, and it’s unclear how long it would take to negotiate a deal between the two parties.
But WSU’s interest in Smith – a up-and-comer at college basketball’s mid-major level – is apparent, and the San Francisco Chronicle was able to confirm through a source the the Cougars had offered him the position.
Smith and WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun didn’t respond to a text message from The Spokesman-Review seeking comment.
If Smith is hired at WSU, he would replace Erie Kent, who was fired after five years at the Cougars’ helm. Kent was terminated less than 24 hours after WSU’s 33-point loss to Oregon at the Pac-12 Tournament and at the end of a tenure that saw the coach go 58-98 and 22-69 in Pac-12 games.
Firing Kent came with a significant price tag, and the Cougars will have to buy out the remainder of his contract, which was set to expire after the 2021-22 season. WSU is in line to pay Kent $4.2 million over the next three years.
Chun detailed that decision in an interview with Derek Deis on the weekly “Cougs in 60” radio show.
“There’s always a cost. And there’s a cost with action, and there’s a cost with inaction,” Chun said. “And we made the decision the cost of inaction was going to be higher than the cost of action.”
The 49-year-old Smith recently led the Dons to their third consecutive 20-win season in 2018-19, bowing out of the West Coast Conference Tournament with an 89-72 loss to Pepperdine in the first round. USF went 21-10 under Smith this season, but the Dons opened with 12 wins in their first 13 games and beat two Pac-12 schools, blowing out Cal 79-60 and defeating Stanford 74-65.
Smith led the Dons to a 22-17 record in 2017-18, giving the program its highest win total since the 1981-82 basketball season. USF finished runner-up in the College Basketball Invitational, losing to North Texas in the championship series. USF went 20-13 during Smith’s debut season.
Klay Thompson, the Golden State Warriors’ All-Star shooting guard who played three seasons at WSU, gave Smith a ringing endorsement for the Cougars job during a recent interview.
“Kyle at USF is doing a great job, I recommend him for an interview,” Thompson said. “Every program he’s been at, he’s turned around, and USF was really good this year. They’ve beat some Pac-10 schools, so he’s be a great candidate.”
Asked if he had a relationship with Smith, Thompson said, “No, I just like the way his team plays.
“I watched them on TV. They look good.”
Smith has an overall coaching record of 164-122 in nine seasons.
During Smith’s initial season at USF, the Dons made measurable gains on the floor, setting a school single-season record for 3-pointers made while shaving their opponents’ scoring average by 10 points per game.
In a lengthy profile in The Athletic titled “Nerdball is ushering in a new era at resurgent San Francisco,” Smith is described as an analytics guru who tracks “more than 50 statistical categories for each player.”
“They have 12 unique stats for rebounding alone – having two feet in the paint on a rebound attempt is a big one of late,” author Brian Bennett wrote.
The Dons signed Smith to a multiyear contract extension last July, although full details of the agreement weren’t disclosed to the public.
Before taking over the in San Francisco, Smith spent six years in the Ivy League at Columbia University. The Lions went 42-44 in his first three seasons, but Smith turned the program around in 2013-14, guiding the Lions them to a 21-13 record. Columbia went 25-10 and won the CIT during his final season, in 2015-16.
Smith had two assistant coaching stints in the WCC, at San Diego (1992-2000) and Saint Mary’s (2001-10). He also spent one season (2000-01) as an assistant at Air Force.
The Fallston, Maryland, native played for four seasons at Hamilton College, a Division III school in Clinton, New York.
Smith doesn’t have any experience coaching at the Power Six level. In Pullman, he’d be tasked with resurrecting a program that’s gone a full decade since winning a game at the Pac-12 Tournament. The Cougars haven’t played in a postseason game in seven years. Their NCAA Tournament drought is up to 11 years.
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