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Idaho men’s basketball coach Zac Claus has interim tag removed

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 25, 2020

Idaho head coach Zac Claus speaks to his players on the court during the second half Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Cheney. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho head coach Zac Claus speaks to his players on the court during the second half Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Cheney. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – The University of Idaho removed the interim status and made Zac Claus its 30th men’s basketball coach Tuesday.

If this gives needed clarity to an unsettled Vandals program going forward, it isn’t coming at the expense of making the best of the remainder of the current season – memorable for its turmoil – for Idaho (7-20, 3-13 Big Sky).

“Stay in the moment,” Claus said would be his first act as coach.

“Coach these guys right now,” he said of players around him drifting off the Memorial Gym court at the conclusion of practice Tuesday.

Claus’ appointment was announced to the team at the start of the workout.

Claus had been an Idaho assistant four years before being named to succeed Don Verlin on an interim tenure last July. Claus agreed to lead a program roiling with tumult.

In the wake of several self-reported possible NCAA violations, Verlin was fired by outgoing UI President Chuck Staben on Staben’s final day in June. Staben was forced out when the Idaho Board of Education declined to renew his contract.

Staben had previously ousted athletics director Rob Spear, so Claus was appointed by an interim AD, Pete Isakson. After Scott Green became Idaho’s new president, replacing Staben, Green hired Terry Gawlik to succeed Isakson, who moved on to a fundraising position with the UI before dying in December.

Before the first game this year, seven returning members from Verlin’s final team left Idaho after he was fired.

“Zac Claus agreed to take on a challenged program and has formed a hardworking team of outstanding young men and prepared a base on which to build a sustainable program,” Green said of Claus’ hiring.

“Zac Claus has earned the opportunity to be our head men’s basketball coach,” Gawlik said. “He has done all we have asked while in the interim role and done it with integrity, honesty and class. He has started to build a solid foundation with a true passion to develop student-athletes.”

“You can think a little bit bigger picture now than initially,” Claus said after getting the endorsement of Gawlik and Green.

He said he will meet with Gawlik at the conclusion of the season to discuss a future for the Vandals that will include bringing in high-quality players from high schools, junior colleges and as transfers who are also good citizens and focused on getting degrees.

“Both Terry and I are grateful for Zac’s energy and unfailing effort. His mentorship will continue to elevate our student-athletes as he builds a quality program that excels in the classroom and on the court,” Green said.

Idaho women’s team took the floor as the men were leaving practice Tuesday.

“Having worked alongside him I see his tremendous passion and tireless work ethic on display on a daily basis,” women’s coach Jon Newlee said in a statement. “I think he has done an awesome job under extremely trying circumstances this year, and I can’t wait to see the huge strides I’m sure the program will take in the future under his leadership.”

Before coming to Idaho, Claus spent a decade in a variety of positions with the University of Nevada basketball program. Before that, he was an assistant at Sacramento State and Portland State. He also coached the junior varsity at Nebraska Wesleyan, and one season at Austin (Texas) College.

Claus played college basketball at Creighton and Nebraska before finishing his career in 1998 following two seasons at Eastern Washington.

Claus and his wife, Toni, have three daughters.

“Our family is absolutely thrilled about this tremendous opportunity,” Claus said, thanking Green and Gawlik.

“I also want to thank the late Pete Isakson for presenting us with the chance to coach this year’s Idaho basketball team.

“The players on this team have been terrific in the face of adversity. They have allowed us to push them, and they have continued to believe in one another, and I thank them for making this possible.”

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