One day after initial reports surfaced linking Kyle Smith to Washington State’s vacant men’s basketball job, the two sides have agreed to a long-term contract to make Smith the Cougars’ next coach.
According to a Spokesman-Review source, Smith has formally accepted a six-year contract that will pay the former University of San Francisco coach $1.4 million annually.
Ernie Kent, who was fired after leading the Cougars to a 13-18 record in 2018-19, was also earning $1.4 million per year. It’ll cost WSU $4.2 million over the next three years to buy out the remainder of Kent’s contact, which was set to expire after the 2021-22 season.
WSU athletic director Pat Chun detailed that decision in an interview with Derek Deis on the weekly “Cougs in 60” radio show.
“There’s always a cost. And there’s a cost with action, and there’s a cost with inaction,” Chun said. “And we made the decision the cost of inaction was going to be higher than the cost of action.”
When Washington State’s Board of Regents convenes Thursday, it will consider approving additional expenditures for the athletic department to fund Smith’s contract, according to the meeting agenda.
WSU is requesting $500,000 “for the purposes of hiring a men’s basketball coaching staff,” according to the agenda. State law mandates any expenditures over $250,000 not included in the previous fiscal year’s budget be brought forth to, and approved by, the Board of Regents.
Smith won at least 20 games in each of his first three seasons as the Dons coach and has a career win-loss record of 164-122. Prior to USF, Smith spent six season in the Ivy League as the coach at Columbia.
The 49-year-old Smith led the Dons to their third consecutive 20-win season in 2018-19, bowing out of the West Coast Conference Tournament with an 89-72 loss to Pepperdine in the first round. USF went 21-10 under Smith this season, but the Dons opened with 12 wins in their first 13 games and beat two Pac-12 schools, blowing out Cal 79-60 and defeating Stanford 74-65.
Smith led the Dons to a 22-17 record in 2017-18, giving the program its highest win total since the 1981-82 season. USF finished runner-up in the College Basketball Invitational, losing to North Texas in the championship series. USF went 20-13 during Smith’s debut season.
Klay Thompson, the Golden State Warriors’ All-Star shooting guard who played three seasons at WSU, gave Smith a ringing endorsement for the Cougars job during a recent interview.
“Kyle at USF is doing a great job, I recommend him for an interview,” Thompson said. “Every program he’s been at, he’s turned around, and USF was really good this year. They’ve beat some (Pac-12) schools, so he’s be a great candidate.”
Asked if he had a relationship with Smith, Thompson said, “No, I just like the way his team plays.
“I watched them on TV. They look good.”
Smith has an overall coaching record of 164-122 in nine seasons.
During Smith’s initial season at USF, the Dons made measurable gains on the floor, setting a school season record for 3-pointers while shaving their opponents’ scoring average by 10 points per game.
In a lengthy profile in The Athletic titled “Nerdball is ushering in a new era at resurgent San Francisco,” Smith is described as an analytics guru who tracks “more than 50 statistical categories for each player.”
“They have 12 unique stats for rebounding alone – having two feet in the paint on a rebound attempt is a big one of late,” author Brian Bennett wrote.
The Dons signed Smith to a multiyear contract extension in July, although full details of the agreement weren’t disclosed.
Before taking over at San Francisco, Smith spent six years in the Ivy League at Columbia. The Lions went 42-44 in his first three seasons, but Smith turned the program around in 2013-14, guiding the them to a 21-13 record. Columbia went 25-10 and won the CIT during his final season, in 2015-16.
Smith had two assistant-coaching stints in the WCC, at San Diego (1992-2000) and Saint Mary’s (2001-10). He also spent one season (2000-01) as an assistant at Air Force.
The Fallston, Md., native played for four seasons at Hamilton College, a Division III school in Clinton, N.Y.
Smith doesn’t have any experience coaching at the Power Six level. In Pullman, he’d be tasked with resurrecting a program that’s gone a full decade since winning a game at the Pac-12 tournament. The Cougars haven’t played in a postseason game in seven years. Their NCAA tournament drought is up to 11 years.