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Eastern Washington University Basketball

Dave Boling: Look no further, Dan Monson would be a perfect fit as head coach of Eastern Washington

By Dave Boling The Spokesman-Review

What would Eastern Washington men’s basketball fans say if they were told that their search for a new basketball coach could land them a guy who just took his team to the NCAA Tournament?

It usually works in the opposite direction for EWU. If they get a hot coach taking them to the tourney, he’s apt to get poached by a bigger program.

And what if this prospective coach not only had one of the Cinderella teams this year, but also had one 25 seasons ago when he laid the groundwork for one of the top-shelf programs in the nation?

Surely that proposition would get 100% fan approval.

So, we urge the decision-makers at EWU to do what’s possible to make it happen: Hire Dan Monson.

The impetus for this plea was a small rumble from sources that Monson might be interested. Actually, it was somewhat less than a rumble, as my main source – not exactly an insider – listed his confidence on the Monson information at 45%.

I’ve written columns with lower odds before. So, here goes.

Not only does it make a lot of sense, there aren’t that many moving parts to making it happen, either. EWU needs a coach and Monson needs a job. No buyouts. No encumbrances. Sign the papers and give him a whistle.

Word is that a decision will be made Friday or early next week.

Monson’s name, his family legacy, his coaching and recruiting connections, all surely make his qualifications stronger than any fast-rising young coach they might take a chance on. He’s 62, with more head coaching experience – and success – than anybody they could land.

Can EWU afford him? Well, Cheney housing has to be much cheaper than Long Beach. That’s a start. And Monson, himself, might see value in the tidy way it would close a family circle.

A little history: Getting another Monson in the Big Sky Conference has such a sense of symmetry. His father, Don Monson, Big Mons, coached Idaho to the Sweet 16 in the early 1980s.

And where did Don start coaching back in the 1950s? Cheney High School.

His son Dan, Little Mons, assisted at Gonzaga for 10 years, and in two years as the Zags’ head coach, had them in the Elite Eight in 1999 before heading off to Minnesota.

His 17-season stay at Long Beach State ended with his untimely firing before the Big West Conference Tournament, in which his inspired Beach team won the title to get the conference’s automatic berth.

Monson’s strange situation caught the notice of much of the national sporting media. He came off sympathetically as he handled himself with grace and humor – and he had his team playing at their best at the right time. At his first tournament news conference, he joked, “I don’t have to answer any questions I don’t want to because I’m working for free this week.”

Would Monson want the EWU job? His dad is still around. He’s still close to Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who would live down the road.

Here’s what he said after getting pink-slipped at Long Beach: “I don’t think this is my last (season). I love coaching. I love teams. I need a new challenge. It’s life – on to the next chapter.”

Seems like EWU would be a perfect challenge. The program has been on the rise, so much so that coach David Riley won two straight conference titles and was hired by Washington State to replace Kyle Smith, who left for the Stanford job.

What kind of talent do the Eagles have around? Hey, who knows? Players are flying around in the transfer portal like those old pneumatic delivery tubes in bank drive-throughs.

The good thing about that is that players are out there for the taking. It’s an open marketplace. And Monson knows talent.

Recruit the Northwest? Shouldn’t be a problem. Recruit southern California? Probably, after 17 years, he has a ton of contacts in that recruiting hotbed.

The biggest validation of Monson, as a coach who still has the fire and the ability and can build relationships with his players, came with his team’s response to his firing.

In every interview I saw from the players, they blamed themselves for his firing, and they wanted to play their hearts out to try to make it up to him.

That tells you a lot about how the man coaches.

After seeing his team’s response, Monson told reporters that his final week as coach down there was one of the best weeks of his career.

“I realized that the kids that I love so much loved me back,” he said. “It was gratifying to know where they stood with me and where my relationship stood with them.”

So, yeah, a Monson coaching in Cheney again makes a lot of sense.

Another factor: Just speculating here, but I’d imagine, at his age and history in the profession, if he builds the program into a consistent winner, he just might be the one coach who would stay at EWU for the long haul. Or whatever “haul” he has left.

He knows better than anybody that the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere.