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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Dave Boling: David Riley might be a diamond, but if hiring process is any indication, the shine is definitely off WSU

By Dave Boling The Spokesman-Review

David Riley looks legit. Credentials. Experience. Eye test. Local connections.

He would have been a solid decision if he’d been the first candidate for Washington State’s new head basketball coach.

Wish you nothing but good luck, coach, because you’re going to be starting from scratch.

Somehow, after almost comically botching the job search for the new coach, the landing of Riley could be a winner for the WSU basketball program.

But the process was an embarrassment.

Through it all, the market has spoken, loudly and unequivocally. It has told WSU: You ain’t what you thought you were.

Certainly not the athletic department. Or, more specifically, those souls left in the building trying to hold things together in the absence of athletic director Pat Chun, who left for emerald pastures at Washington a couple of days after Kyle Smith decamped for the hoops job at Stanford.

Surely, Chun was back-channeling with Washington for some time while plotting his escape route. Maybe it’s because I’m paid to be suspicious, but I think it’s fair to wonder how much effort Chun put into trying to keep Smith from leaving WSU, while he was busy packing for Seattle.

Maybe they didn’t have a chance to keep Smith, anyway. He was a finalist for national coach of the year for getting the Cougars into the NCAA Tournament.

That WSU twice dipped into the Big Sky Conference ranks while searching for a replacement for the well-regarded Smith proves that WSU now has to look in somewhat lesser talent pools.

And that’s not meant as an insult to either Riley or Montana State coach Matt Logie, who reportedly turned down an offer from WSU to stay with the Bobcats and make a fraction of what he presumably would have been paid in Pullman.

Look at it from this perspective. When they hired Smith five years ago, he had three 20-plus-win seasons at San Francisco in the West Coast Conference.

In comparison, Logie had one 17-18 season at Montana State. Lots of promise, to be sure, but taking over a 25-win program that finished second in the Pac-12 seems quite a stretch.

Riley has won two straight Big Sky regular-season titles and twice been named the conference coach of the year.

Respected and experienced Cougars associate head coach Jim Shaw apparently got a courtesy sniff at Smith’s position, but whatever went on behind closed doors resulted in his being denied the job. Maybe he was deemed not young and shiny enough.

At the end of the Cougars’ historic success this season, I made the mistake of thinking that even if Smith left, respect for the WSU program might remain. Perhaps Smith had proven that a good coach could build a program. Prospects could see the possibility of an NCAA run.

Fool. So naïve. I didn’t foresee the mass migration.

Once Shaw was out of consideration, the Colfax speed trap must have been funded for the entire year by players racing from Pullman.

Pretty much the whole basketball team is in the portal, along with star women’s player Charlisse Leger-Walker. Not sure how she got swept up in the urge for going, except for possibly fearing that the whole thing might be collapsing.

Pullman is reputed to have charms, and those who have gone through WSU often talk about the wonderful experience.

So how badly did this whole process have to smell to drive away almost everyone?

Yes, of course, it’s tied to money, and opportunities elsewhere. But everybody leaving? Doesn’t inspire confidence in where things are trending.

No word yet on Chun’s replacement, although interim AD Anne McCoy has experience and will serve while WSU conducts “a national search.”

Given recent events, the search might take a good, long while. Although, there have to be some promising administrators in the Big Sky they might be able to lure.

I hate to sound class-ist. Small schools with tighter budgets often do sensational work. Smaller-school coaches, too. Riley certainly could be a genuine diamond.

But how will this whole unsettling episode affect athletic finances? Always a primary concern. Especially now.

Coaches are getting out. Players are scramming. I guess that leaves the fans holding the shrinking bag. Those brave loyalists have been forking over real money, actually dollars they’ve worked to earn, to help pay for the players who have now departed. Not a great return on their investment.

Riley will have to work some basketball magic to give those fans their money’s worth.

I see in his bio that he got his degree from Whitworth in the field of mathematic economics.

He’s going to need everything he learned to try to get this program back in the black.