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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Mixed results for former Gonzaga assistants taking head coaching roles

UPDATED: Sat., April 17, 2021

Boise State coach Leon Rice talks with a referee during a break in an NIT semifinal game against Memphis on March 25.  (Associated Press )
Boise State coach Leon Rice talks with a referee during a break in an NIT semifinal game against Memphis on March 25. (Associated Press )

Staff continuity has been one of the biggest reasons for Gonzaga’s success over the past two-plus decades, but Mark Few has had to replace assistant coaches in 22 seasons as head coach.

That includes replacing his top assistant twice when Bill Grier and Leon Rice moved on to head coaching positions. Make it three times now, after Arizona hired longtime Bulldogs assistant Tommy Lloyd on Wednesday.

Here’s a look at Grier’s and Rice’s post-Gonzaga careers.

Grier was a Zags assistant coach for 15 seasons before accepting the job at San Diego.

Grier enjoyed great success in his first season. His Toreros knocked off Gonzaga and his former boss in the 2008 West Coast Conference Tournament title game at the Jenny Craig Pavilion in San Diego.

“I’m really happy for Billy,” Few said. “He’s like a brother. He’s done a great job with this team. They showed a ton of character and they fought through it to get that one back last night (in a semifinal win over Saint Mary’s) and it was a springboard for this game.”

The Toreros upset fourth-seeded Connecticut 70-69 in overtime in the first round for the school’s first NCAA Tournament win. They lost to Western Kentucky in the second round and finished 22-14. Grier, an Oregon native, then turned down an offer to become Oregon State’s head coach.

Grier’s first year at USD turned out to be the high-water mark of his eight seasons.

He finished with a 117-144 record. He guided the Toreros through the turbulence of a point-shaving scandal involving a player and assistant coach during the 2009-10 season. Athletic director Ky Snyder said Grier “rebuilt the character” of the program after the point-shaving scandal.

Grier’s 2014 team played in the Tournament and reached the quarterfinals. His past three teams finished a combined two games under .500.

“I’m more disappointed than anyone that we didn’t win more games,” Grier said, “but I know we did things the right way.”

Grier assisted at Oklahoma State in 2015-16. He’s been an assistant coach at Colorado since the 2017 season.

Few hired good friend Ray Giacoletti, who had been a head coach at North Dakota State, Eastern Washington and Utah, to replace Grier.

Rice spent 11 seasons at Gonzaga, the last four as associate head coach from 2007-10, before landing the head coaching job at Boise State.

Rice is 217-137 in 11 years with the Broncos. He became the program’s all-time winningest coach after a February win over UNLV gave him 214 , one more than Bobby Dye.

“It’s really special and a neat deal,” Rice told the Idaho Press-Tribune. “It’s humbling. You’re passing up a legendary coach here and that’s an amazing accomplishment to get to stay here as long as I have and get to coach the guys I get to coach and work with every day. It’s pretty awesome.

“The 214 is not about me. It’s about this program and all the guys that have had a piece of it.”

Rice has produced eight 20-win seasons and at-large berths to the 2013 and 2015 NCAA tournaments. The Broncos had played in one March Madness – 2008 under then coach Greg Graham – since Dye’s teams made back-to-back appearances in 1993 and 1994.

The Broncos have played in three NITs in the past five seasons. Rice’s first team advanced to the CBI semifinals.

UCLA assistant coach Donny Daniels was hired shortly after the 2010 season to replace Rice at Gonzaga. Daniels left GU following the 2019 season to begin transitioning toward retirement. He spent two seasons as Utah’s director of player development before retiring last month.

Giacoletti left Gonzaga in 2013 to become the head coach at Drake. He was 32-69 before stepping down eight games into the 2016-17 season. He’s an assistant coach at Saint Louis.

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