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Grip on Sports: Verlin’s Idaho tenure seems to be melting away after investigation turns up the heat

Idaho basketball coach Don Verlin patrols the sidelines during a game at Eastern Washington on Jan. 12, 2018. UI placed Verlin on paid administrative leave  on Thursday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho basketball coach Don Verlin patrols the sidelines during a game at Eastern Washington on Jan. 12, 2018. UI placed Verlin on paid administrative leave on Thursday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There is really nothing major going on today, is there? Well, unless you consider one of our local Division I basketball coaches being put on leave as nothing major, that is.


• Idaho’s Don Verlin has been on thin ice for a while lately, some of it thinned through the Vandals’ poor play, some of it due to circumstances outside the coaches’ control.

But when the school announced yesterday he’s been placed on administrative leave due to a report that identified three possible NCAA violations, the ice may have melted completely.

The school identified one of those possible violations, a minor one, to our Peter Harriman but did not elaborate on the other two.

The question may be, does it matter?

Yes, Verlin has won more games than any basketball coach in Idaho history, 177 over 11 years. And the Vandals were 22-9 just a couple seasons ago, barely missing out on a Big Sky Conference regular season title. But last season’s 5-27 fiasco, coupled with another offseason of roster churn, has put his tenure into question. And there are other elements in play here.

The athletic director who hired Verlin in 2008, Rob Spear, was fired last year. The school is not only still looking for his replacement (Pete Isakson is the interim), but is also waiting on new president Scott Green to take office in a little more than a month.

Neither Isakson or Green commented on Verlin’s leave. They seem to be keeping their distance, which may be telling. Neither have close ties to the basketball coach, or any of their capital invested in his success.

It’s part of college sports, and a reason why successful coaches sometimes bid adieu to their current position when most fans think they should stay.

Athletic directors and presidents come and go. Their replacements look to hire coaches they are comfortable with, at times just to make a clean break with the past. Some coaches make it a habit to leave before the administration’s revolving door begins spinning, attaching themselves to a new spot where their arrival is heralded and their success is the administration’s success.

Verlin didn’t do that after the 2018 season. He stayed. One awful season later, his tenure has become tenuous. Add in some possible NCAA rules-breaking and it may not survive.

Whether you think it is fair or not, it’s the way of the college basketball world.


WSU: Sophomore-to-be CJ Elleby will be a sophomore. He decided yesterday to return to Washington State and play for new coach Kyle Smith. Theo Lawson has all the details in this story. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, we missed this interview with the Colorado president from a while back, but we wanted to pass it along with some commentary. … Oregon fired George Horton on Tuesday. The Ducks should look no further than Andrew Checketts at UC Santa Barbara for their next coach. … Oregon State needs to hit better if it wants to return to Omaha. … Arizona State has added even more NFL flavor to its football program. … Colorado may have a youngster holding a key spot on its offensive line. … UCLA is moving forward on its next basketball schedule. … Washington has recruited well. That’s important, considering who the Huskies are losing.

Gonzaga: The deadline for staying in the NBA draft is today. Killian Tillie is expected to pull his name out of the hopper and return to GU. Filip Petrusev already did that. Jim Meehan has that and more in this story. … Another transfer has mentioned Gonzaga. Jim has that story too.

Idaho: As we said, Harriman has the Verlin news. There are others who have it covered as well.

Mariners: After a win to open the homestand, the M’s reverted back to their poor play and were pounded 11-4 by the Rangers. … The franchise’s “step back” is not going over well with some of the veterans. Why would it? … When things aren’t going well, it behooves the team to highlight some small victories. For example: a really long home run. … Larry Stone writes about Bill Buckner. …  Gene Warnick has his Out of Right Field recap, focusing on Marco Gonzales’ recent troubles.

Sounders: Ramadan is a trying time, physically, for Muslim athletes. But teams around the world have to help them through the challenges.


• We opened up our bank of memories yesterday concerning our backyard basketball hoop. They seemed to be somewhat universal, if the feedback I received was any indicator. I thought they might. Thanks for the comments. Until later …

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