As Shantay Legans donned purple Tuesday while being introduced as the new head coach at the University of Portland, his former team mulled its future.
Two days after falling to Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Legans informed Eastern Washington he was leaving for the West Coast Conference.
Portland, a program that traditionally struggles in a conference that includes Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s, gave Legans a four-year contract with a fifth-year option worth substantially more than his annual $130,000 salary at EWU, which ranked among the lowest in the conference despite his success.
Legans, who won 73% of his Big Sky Conference games, wouldn’t disclose the details of his new salary, but said it will be “a lot more” than what he earned in Cheney.
The Pilots’ former head coach, Terry Porter, made roughly $445,000 a year, according to records.
Eastern Washington athletic director Lynn Hickey discussed a contract extension with Legans last summer, she said, but the parties didn’t come to an agreement.
“We didn’t have it in our budget,” said Hickey, whose athletic department continues to battle its well-documented financial woes that spawned a recent study by an outside firm.
Now, in an era in which players have leeway to quickly transfer to another school if they’re not comfortable in their current situation, Eastern Washington begins the process of finding a replacement.
EWU associate head coach David Riley has expressed his interest in the job after being Legans’ assistant in the Eagles’ successful four-year run, but Hickey, who said she has been contacted by several interested candidates, has not immediately named a successor.
“We want to get someone in there quick so these players know who their coach is,” Hickey said.
When former EWU head coach Jim Hayford accepted the same job at Seattle University in 2017, then-EWU athletic director Bill Chaves immediately promoted Legans.
The Eagles return the bulk of their talent from their 2021 NCAA Tournament team that also won a Big Sky Conference regular-season title in 2020, including 6-foot-9 forward and Big Sky MVP Tanner Groves.
Groves wants the 32-year-old Riley to stay and continue the program’s wide-open, 3-pointer-heavy offense with mostly the same personnel it had this season.
“I would definitely think (Riley) should be the No. 1 guy,” Groves said.
“He has worked hard, and I think he deserves it.”
Here’s a list of potential candidates The Spokesman-Review believes may be interested in the vacancy.
David Riley, EWU associate head coach: Riley, a former Whitworth standout, has been an assistant under Hayford and Legans, both coaches who took EWU to the NCAA Tournament. Riley has been an understudy for 10 years in Cheney, has the trust of the current roster, recruits, understands the culture and is an affordable hire, considering EWU’s budget issues.
Ryan Looney, head coach, Idaho State: The Central Valley graduate and Idaho State head coach had successful stints at NAIA Eastern Oregon and NCAA Division II Seattle Pacific and Point Loma Nazarene before making the move to Pocatello, Idaho, in 2019. The typically downtrodden Bengals enjoyed one of their best seasons in the past 25 years in Looney’s second year, finishing fourth (13-10, 8-6) in the Big Sky Conference. Looney, who runs a slower, methodical offense that contrasts recent EWU teams, is 2-2 against the Eagles in his time at Idaho State. Looney, 43. also applied for the EWU job in 2011.
Matt Logie, head coach, Point Loma Nazarene: Logie enjoyed immense success in his eight-year run at Whitworth (seven national tournament appearances) before making the jump to NCAA Division II Point Loma Nazarene in 2019 to replace Looney. In his two years at the San Diego school, the Lions earned two berths to the NCAA II Tournament and have a combined record of 32-9.
Nick Booker, assistant coach, UC San Diego: Booker was Legans’ associate head coach at EWU for three seasons before returning to his hometown of San Diego last summer for family reasons. He aided the Titans, a program that experienced its first season as NCAA Division I member this past season. Booker, Legans’ close friend, remains connected to much of EWU’s current roster.
Austin Johnson, head coach, Lewis-Clark State: The young head coach is a winner. He led the Warriors to the NAIA national title game appearance on Tuesday and has a combined record of 82-11 in his three seasons. He was named NAIA Coach of the Year in 2020.
Brandon Rinta, head coach, Central Washington: A former EWU assistant under ex-Eagles coaches Mike Burns and Ray Giacoletti, Rinta had a successful stint at Lewis-Clark State before making the move to NCAA Division II Central Washington in 2018. His Wildcats improved from 11-17 his first season to 17-11 in the 2019-2020 season, but only played six games in his third season because of the pandemic.
Ben Johnson: Johnson, recently the interim head coach at the University of Portland after Terry Porter was fired, has plenty of experience in the Inland Northwest. Johnson was an assistant at Washington State under head coaches Dick Bennett, Tony Bennett and Ken Bone.
Alex Pribble, associate head coach, Seattle University: Pribble, a former EWU assistant under Hayford, again works for his old boss in Seattle, but after a successful four-year head coaching stint at NCAA Division II Saint Martin’s. He compiled 83-40 record with the Saints, reached the Sweet 16 of the national tournament and earned GNAC Coach of the Year in that span.
Damion Jablonski, Whitworth: In his lone complete season with the Pirates, Jablonski helped the Pirates reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Tournament in 2020 that was ultimately canceled. The Pirates went 12-5 this past coronavirus-shortened season, though, giving Jablonski a 35-11 overall record as head coach.
Wild cards: Ken Bone, former Washington State head coach and current Pepperdine assistant; Cameron Dollar, former Seattle University head coach and former Washington assistant; Bill Grier, former Gonzaga assistant, San Diego head coach and current Colorado assistant; Brian Michaelson, Gonzaga assistant; Giacoletti, former EWU, Utah and Drake head coach currently an assistant at Saint Louis.
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