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Eastern Washington University Basketball

EWU athletic director Tim Collins reassures men’s basketball team in wake of head coach David Riley’s departure

Tim Collins, the new EWU athletic director speaks during a press conference, Thursday, June 22, 2023, in Cheney.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

Tim Collins met with the Eastern Washington men’s basketball team on Wednesday morning with the goal of assuring the team that he, the EWU athletic director, had their back.

“We’re still here to support them regardless of what happens,” Collins said. “A lot of them have decisions to make as they would at the end of any year.”

That decision – whether to stay or transfer elsewhere – was made more complicated on Tuesday, when David Riley agreed to a six-year deal to become Washington State’s head basketball coach after three years at the post for the Eagles.

The Eagles won back-to-back Big Sky Conference regular-season championships under Riley, who was twice named Big Sky Coach of the Year. Riley had been at Eastern since 2011 as an assistant under coaches Jim Hayford and Shantay Legans – both of them also winners of Big Sky Coach of the Year – before he was promoted heading into the 2021-22 season.

Collins has been at Eastern since last summer, so replacing Riley will be the first time he has hired an Eagles head coach.

Collins said he and Riley maintained an open dialogue through the process.

“I am losing a great guy, somebody I enjoyed working with,” Collins said, “so any feelings of (being) upset are out of selfishness for Eastern that we lost a good coach.”

Before he became an administrator, Collins was a basketball coach, so making this hire is something he said he feels comfortable doing without the aid of a search firm.

“Our job already is drawing tons of interest from people who want to be here because they know there is a model to winning,” Collins said.

Collins’ time at Fresno State overlapped with that of Kalen DeBoer, who left Fresno State in 2022 to coach Washington and then succeeded Nick Saban at Alabama this last offseason. While there, Collins developed an appreciation for how DeBoer operated.

“I learned a lot from working with Kalen DeBoer, how he galvanized people and got them to work for him, how he made them feel,” Collins said. “(We need to) identify somebody who obviously is a leader and somebody who can bring people together, who can connect with others and motivate them. All those kinds of things play into it, and at a place like ours, they have to be excited for the fight a little bit. At our level, they’ve got to be able to embrace some of that.”

It is unknown who Collins might pursue and who might be interested at this point. But there are some familiar names that might stir interest one way or the other.

Ryan Looney, Idaho State’s head coach, is a Spokane native who has 19 years of head coaching experience with stops at Eastern Oregon, Seattle Pacific and Point Loma (California).

Others with current local connections include Whitworth head coach Damion Jablonski, Gonzaga assistant coach Stephen Gentry and Austin Johnson at Lewis-Clark State College.

There are also former EWU assistants who coach elsewhere, including Roberto Bergersen (Boise State), Bobby Suarez (Portland), Grant Leep (Seattle University), Chris Victor (Seattle University) and Rachi Wortham (Tacoma Community College).

Whoever ends up accepting the job will have the challenge of retaining a roster that went 15-3 in Big Sky play but lost in the first round of the conference tournament for the second year in a row. As of Wednesday afternoon, no EWU players had entered the transfer portal, according to tracker Verbal Commits.

“I was pretty open and honest with them,” Collins said. “If you’re graduating and you’re a grad transfer, that’s a pretty easy transfer. If you’re a freshman, that’s pretty easy.”

But, he said, if you are somewhere in the middle – as EWU’s junior core of Cedric Coward, Dane Erikstrup, Casey Jones and Ethan Price is – there are more academic factors when players haven’t earned a degree.

“We want them to have all the tools necessary so they make the best decision for them,” Collins said. “Sometimes that is staying at Eastern.”