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

‘This is where my family grew up’: New EWU coach Dan Monson has deep ties to Cheney, region

By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

As Dan Monson drove himself to Reese Court on the campus of Eastern Washington University on Friday, a wrong turn led him down memory lane.

“I ended up in a little park that brought me back to when I was a kindergartener,” Monson said.

That was in the 1960s, when Monson lived in Cheney, back when Don Monson, his father, coached basketball at Cheney High School and also worked as a park supervisor in the summer.

“It runs pretty deep here,” Monson said.

Monson, 62, will be officially introduced Monday afternoon as the men’s basketball coach at Eastern Washington. It will be his fourth head coaching position, and he’s grateful to have it after spending the past 17 seasons at Long Beach State.

“Everybody says because you went to the NCAA Tournament you won’t have a problem finding a job,” Monson said, “and the reality is there’s only 300 and change of these jobs … there are fewer Division I jobs than there are in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

But to Monson, this one has a special allure.

It’s a place where he gets to have a fresh start and to be a new voice, while at the same time it’s where he has numerous family and friends. Many relationships go back to his time at Gonzaga, where he was an assistant and then head coach from 1988 to 1999. Others connections go back even further, to his childhood in Cheney.

His father – who after that stint at Cheney High was the head basketball coach at Idaho (1978 to 1983) and Oregon (1983 to 1992) – just celebrated his 91st birthday on Thursday. Darci Monson, Dan’s wife, still has family in the Spokane area. Numerous family members earned academic degrees at Eastern, too, he said.

So when Monson first met with EWU athletics director Tim Collins at the Final Four last week in Phoenix, both men knew this could be an excellent fit.

“This is where my family grew up,” Monson said, “and I want to make them proud.”

Now that he has the job, Monson will go about repopulating the roster and preparing to defend the back-to-back Big Sky Conference championships the Eagles won under David Riley.

During that first sit down with Collins, Monson came away with the impression that they shared a vision and could trust each other. Collins came away with similar thoughts.

Having spent much of his life and career in California, Collins knew of Monson and said he had respected his coaching abilities for years. In that conversation he saw too that their values – integrity, compassion and many others – aligned.

“The game has evolved, and (Monson’s) style has evolved over the last 25 years,” Collins said. “I kept coming back to that. In all this uncertainty in college athletics, to have somebody who’s had the experience to meet different challenges provides incredible value and incredible stability.”

Dan Monson holds up the net after leading the Gonzaga Bulldogs to the 1999 West Coast Conference Tournament title.  (Spokesman-Review Photo Archives)
Dan Monson holds up the net after leading the Gonzaga Bulldogs to the 1999 West Coast Conference Tournament title. (Spokesman-Review Photo Archives)

Once the Eagles posted the position – which happened on April 3, the day after Riley resigned – interest in the job was immediate and impressive, Collins said. He had interest from current Division I head coaches and assistants as well as others at Division II.

“I received phone calls from hall of fame coaches, telling me about their candidates, who they wanted for the job,” Collins said.

He leaned on the advice of other administrators and of coaches he’s known over the years who Collins said came from a similar context, people who would be able to speak to the fit of various interested candidates.

On Tuesday, the last day the job was required to remain posted, EWU’s social media team posted that the coaching search included 243 phone calls, 730 inbound text messages and two dead phone batteries.

By then, it was clear to Collins: Monson was his No. 1 choice.

Collins said he’s happy, as a first-time athletic director, to have a seasoned head coach and leader in the department to “align and lock arms with.”

“He can provide mentorship for our department, and that’s a good thing,” Collins said.

Now both are looking forward to the challenges ahead. And they’re looking at just how good Eastern can be.

“Coach (Monson) and I, we’re aligned in our competitiveness,” Collins said. “We both have a little bit of that fire in our belly.”

Nearly 30 years ago, when Monson was an assistant at Gonzaga, the Eastern Washington position came open. When he talked to Dan Fitzgerald about it, Monson said the Gonzaga head coach told him that upon his own retirement, the job at Gonzaga would come to Monson, so he stuck around. And that’s what happened.

But since it was announced he would no longer be the coach at Long Beach State last month, it was as if someone else was guiding the process, Monson said.

This time, the job at Eastern fit just right.

“This is a part of my legacy,” Monson said. “It started at Gonzaga. I’d like to make it grow more by sustaining what the last three coaches at Eastern started. That’s really important to me.”