It took Washington State three more days to fire Ernie Kent and search for/hire his successor than it took Cal to decide to fire Wyking Jones.
Each school, each athletic director, goes at his own pace.
Reaction to the news reports of the Cougars hiring Kyle Smith:
WSU athletic director Pat Chun moved decisively and expediently in firing Ernie Kent and hiring Smith, which is different than moving recklessly or rashly.
It’s reasonable to assume Chun knew for weeks that he would dismiss Kent, which gave him time to quietly research candidates.
The Hotline wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Chun donned a disguise and scouted Smith in person when his USF Dons visited Gonzaga in early February …
Or if Chun caught the Dons in the WCC tournament at the Orleans Arena a few days before WSU played across town at T-Mobile.
It’s clear the Chun has gained solid grasp of what works at WSU in his year-plus on the job.
No doubt, seeing Mike Leach operate up close has helped in that regard, and there are some general similarities between Smith and Leach — not in their experience or success, of course, but in how they think.
Leach has a law degree (from Pepperdine) and takes up permanent residence outside the box on everything from the spread offense to aliens to weddings to military insurgency.
His style of play allows WSU to circumvent many of the traditional recruiting duels — Leach can stock his roster with the proper personnel without having to continually duel with Washington, Oregon and USC for prospects.
Smith has a master’s in educational leadership (from San Diego) and deploys a highly-analytical approach with player development and tactics — a strategy he dubbed Nerdball.
That approach should serve as his version of the Air Raid, allowing Smith to tap into a recruiting pipeline that doesn’t conflict directly with the top-tier programs in the conference.
(Another example of the value of being different in Pullman: The system deployed by Dick and Tony Bennett.)
Smith seems to fit WSU in another, vital respect.
He has performed admirable clean-up work at both Columbia and USF, which should provide a solid foundation for the task currently staring down at him in Pullman.
The roster and playing style must be overhauled — and done so with limited resources.
Smith lifted the USF program to its ceiling in the WCC:
Three consecutive fourth-place finishes, which is the best anyone not named Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s can reasonably expect.
Oh, and it’s worth noting that Smith’s Dons beat Cal, Stanford, Saint Mary’s and BYU (twice) this season.
And that his roster includes players from Estonia, Belarus and Finland.
Like his good friend Randy Bennett at Saint Mary’s, Smith will have roster-building options from overseas.
On the finances:
Add the cost of buying out Ernie Kent ($4 million, approximately) and Kent’s staff, and the cost of hiring Smith ($1.4 million annually for six years, per the Spokesman-Review) and Smith’s staff … and we’re in the $14 million range for the coaching change.
This, for an athletic department staring at tens (and tens) of millions in long-haul debt.
Given WSU’s fiscal challenges, the Kent/Smith swap is an impressive show of commitment to the basketball program by Chun and president Kirk Schulz.
Then again … and this was true of Cal and UCLA, which also made coaching changes … there is a cost associated with doing nothing:
If the administration doesn’t provide evidence it cares about winning, why should fans buy tickets? Why should donors contribute? Why should recruits commit?
I’ll be curious to hear what, if anything, Chun and Smith say about infrastructure investments, whether it’s training, strength or nutrition staffs; recruiting budgets; or the cash available to buy the type of non-conference home games that will enable Smith to build the program properly.
There’s a good chance the school made financial commitments over and above salaries for the new staff.
None of this should be taken as a declaration of immediate success for the Cougars.
They’ve lost immense ground in recent seasons relative to their peers — yes, even in a depleted Pac-12 — and the more remote your location, the more limited your resources, the longer the climb back to relevance.
The Hotline would be surprised, however, if WSU isn’t winning six or seven conference games by Year Three of the Smith era.
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