Cougs should look at bridge for coaching woes

After firing Ernie Kent, WSU should be cautious picking new head coach

ALEX BIVIANO, Evergreen columnist

The end of the Ernie Kent era has spread joy across campus as WSU men’s basketball finally has a chance to compete in the Pac-12 now that it is headed in a new direction.

Kent was holding WSU back, especially given his enormous salary. WSU expected a top-tier coach but received an overpaid underperformer.

However, Coug fans should check their expectations as a new coach does not ensure contention in the next couple of years.

WSU cannot make this hiring mistake again. Our students, alumni and booster clubs deserve more than finishing last in the Pac-12, especially since so much of our hard-earned money is funding the program.

In college sports, the right coach changes everything and the right one is worth a large investment. For example, Mike Leach has completely revitalized WSU football, but he did not succeed a high-priced coach.

There are hundreds of good coaches available for WSU, but good is not going to revive the program. Ernie Kent is a good coach, but WSU is not in the position to contend right away. WSU should save up money while staying out of contention is a maligned plan.

A large portion of why WSU is not ready to contend is attributed to the culture around men’s basketball. There simply is not enough community engagement with the program to warrant more funds without guaranteeing more wins.

The buzz around basketball will never be close to that of football, however, it can generate more by showing progress toward success.

Nkumbu Chisebuka, a senior psychology major at WSU, said that he is a basketball fan, but has a hard time getting excited about WSU basketball, regardless of its success.

“I’m less of a fan because the team is so bad,” Chisebuka said.

This is a common feeling among fans of Cougar sports, myself included, as it is hard to get excited about a sport many supporters know will not improve. However, a coach will simply not replace the previous losing seasons the team has gone through. 

College athletics only benefit from increased spending, but as we are currently paying Kent $4.2 million over the next three years, taking a step back financially will pay dividends in the long run.

Chisebuka said in order to increase attendance for basketball, the team and new coach would have to quickly change their culture.

“I would have to see significant improvement [to attend more games], which takes time. I don’t think we’d be able to contend right away,” Chisebuka said.

This attitude is shared among many Coug fans who feel that a time to rebuild the program from the top down is beneficial going forward. While losing games hurt donations, a less expensive coach will give the university time to rebuild the Cougar Athletic Fund that has been overused in recent years.

Although WSU has options, the university should not overextend itself hiring a big name for more than we can afford. Elite coaches can turn a program around, but as Kent demonstrates, salary does not guarantee wins.

Rick Pitino, national title-winning head coach and inductee in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, is available to hire after being jettisoned from the NCAA amidst a recruiting scandal while at the University of Louisville. Hiring Pitino, who is currently coaching in the Greek Basket League, would instantly bring loads of press and publicity to WSU.

While Pitino would elevate the program nationally, this does not necessarily translate to domestic support here in Pullman. His scandal-ridden past and poor public image make him too risky for WSU to spend big money on.

WSU also has a rare opportunity to make history and become the first NCAA team to hire a female men’s basketball coach.

A possible candidate could be Becky Hammon, assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, as she could reignite a passion for WSU basketball and bring national coverage to Pullman.

“Personally, I wouldn’t mind,” Chisebuka said. “[A female head coach], spices things up. It would make things different.”

WSU should hire a coach that will change the culture of the program, while it also saves money during the current deficit. Realistically, someone with head coaching experience from a smaller school in Washington will get the call.

Shantay Logans, head coach for the EWU men’s team, has gone to the Big Sky Conference tournament championship two years in a row and would offer necessary wins at WSU.

Jim Hayford, head coach of the men’s basketball team at Seattle University, would also make a viable option as he has spent the majority of his career coaching college basketball in the state of Washington.

Internally, WSU assistant coach Ed Haskins would be a good fit as he is a vital piece of Kent’s crew. Haskins could possibly be the best takeaway from Kent’s tenure at WSU.

Haskins is responsible for the recent addition of recruits from Western Washington and transfers from across the country. He knows the team and is well liked by players. Keeping Haskins could be what retains players at WSU. 

No matter who WSU hires, it is up to the fans to support the team and help restore WSU to the glory it once had. Hammon, Logans, Hayford and Haskins would all elevate the program while costing less than Ernie Kent, which is what the team needs to revive the program.