Bill Moos, the Washington State athletic director, took to a conference call Tuesday to sound the right notes of optimism about a new basketball coach at his school.
“I think we can compete, year in and year out,” Moos said. “We can certainly be in the postseason three out of five years.”
This, hours after Moos had taken off life support the five-year Ken Bone regime, something that was a fait accompli, what, at least weeks ago. Bone went 80-86 overall, 29-61 in Pac-12 games.
All Moos’ new guy need be is coach, recruiter, energizer, salesman and, while you’re at it, mountain-mover.
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What Moos wants is George Raveling, whose name he invoked, “someone who has flash, an excitement.” Of course, it’s been more than four decades since Raveling brought a little Barnum and Bailey to WSU, and eventually, winning.
I’m increasingly hearing the name of alumnus Leon Rice, the former Gonzaga assistant who led Boise State to the NCAA tournament last year, and whom Moos credits with “doing a great job.”
Ernie Kent got Oregon to two Elite Eights recruiting to what Moos, the former AD at Oregon, called a “rathole” in McArthur Court and the two worked well enough together that Kent is almost certain to get a call. So might ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, whose toil in a backwater place like Virginia Tech likely would lead him to recognize the need for facilities improvements, though Moos says, “I don’t know what people are talking about. I don’t think we’re terribly far behind in facilities in basketball.”
But if it’s all good at WSU, why is there a Paul Graham for every Kelvin Sampson?
It’s my contention that, contrary to popular wisdom, it’s harder to succeed in basketball at WSU than football. The Cougars, after all, have been to more Rose Bowls than Washington in the past two decades. They’ve been to six NCAA men’s basketball tournaments in 75 years.
Football has a deeper, more passionate fan base. The sport offers the warm tradition of a convivial, weekend event — with tailgating. And right now, with two bold new facilities in place, coach Mike Leach is set up to have something cooking consistently in football.
The standard for achievement in football is a bowl game, and if you’re reasonably competent, you can jerry-rig your way to the postseason. In basketball, it’s the NCAA tournament, which is a lot harder to fake.
Having said all that, did Ken Bone have to prove it so conclusively?
This was a forgettable five years, from the time ex-AD Jim Sterk signed Bone, fresh out of Portland State, to a guaranteed seven-year deal in 2009, for more money than he was paying the football coach. Now Moos owes Bone $1.7 million.
That doesn’t mean Bone was a lout who didn’t deserve the shot. He’s a stand-up guy who carried himself with dignity.
But nothing seemed to work. Nothing seemed to fit. At every turn, there was a non sequitur, right to the end, when Bone last spring brought in assistant Rod Jensen to install an extended-pressure defense, and then the NCAA changed the defensive rules.
“I can’t sit here and say it’s helped us tremendously,” Bone told me recently of that change. “And yet I thought it would really be a huge lift for our program this year.”
Ultimately, there was no lifting it. From the start, I think Bone underestimated the challenge of recruiting and the help he needed in finding players.
Nothing stuck. When the Cougars got a big, breakthrough win against an 18th-ranked Washington team three years ago, they followed up four nights later by going to Oregon and losing 69-43 to a team that finished seventh. That year in the NIT semifinals in New York, they lost to Wichita State, 75-44.
This season, minus leading scorer DaVonte Lacy, they had to close with a rush to put up 25 points at Arizona.
How little oomph was there in the program? Bone’s teams came close, but never won a game in the Pac-12 tournament. The last two years, WSU was 3-31 against the RPI top 100, two of those final-weekend wins against a UCLA team that mailed it in.
Meanwhile, so did WSU fans, understandably. The Cougars averaged 2,800 this year, compared to 7,323 in Bone’s first season.
“Kind of like the old saying, don’t step over the dollars to get the nickels,” said Moos. “All we’re seeing right now is nickels, in regards to gate receipts in basketball.”
Today, quarters might be a reasonable goal. Dollars seem so far in the distance.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281