Bill Moos’ hire of Ernie Kent as the new men’s head basketball coach at Washington State University was pretty happenin’ among the media outlets yesterday, as expected. It was however received with mixed emotions and reaction throughout the WSU community, which is very interesting. Let’s dive into why this isn’t as ‘blah’ a hire as you may be thinking.
Before his final two seasons at Oregon Ernie Kent was to Ducks basketball what Mike Leach used to be for Texas Tech football. These numbers bear repeating because they are so freaking solid;
- A career record of 325-254 (.561)
- TWO postseason NIT’s, both Final Four appearances (1999, 2004)
- FIVE NCAA Tournament appearances (2000, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008)
- TWO Elite Eight appearances (2002, 2007)
- UO’s FIRST outright conference title since 1939
- TWO more Pac-10/12 Tournament Championships
- FOUR NBA first round selections (Aaron Brooks, Fred Jones, Luke Jackson, Luke Ridnour) and countless other players sent to the NBA
- He also led Saint Mary’s to the Dance in 1997
Now that’s a resume folks. Kent was his own worst enemy in the end, becoming the very reason that Oregon aspired to be anywhere near heights that only he had previously taken them. When they fell short of those lofty goals for those last couple seasons, he was let go, but even then, he had the Ducks on the rise again.
Ultimately it wasn’t necessarily that he had worn out his welcome, just that the Oregon program was in a mode of mystique and sudden success throughout its sports platforms and ran into common problems with coaches that end up in long stints at places. Burnout and perhaps boredom was inevitable. I think Kent felt it too. But now, after three seasons just sitting around watching basketball teams in the Pac-12 go at it, he’s ready for another challenge and should bring a renewed energy to this WSU program. A successful, winning energy.
This isn’t just a great hire for what he brings from a coaching standpoint though. It’s also a great hire for two more reasons; he recruits the crap out of the Northwest (a place where plenty of high quality talent gets away from WSU) and he knows the Pac-12 after announcing and analyzing it for the past few seasons. That last part is a humongous bonus that not many have thought about. He knows the players, he knows the coaches, he understands the schemes and he understands the recruiting strategies of the entire conference!
Let’s also not forget that while some were looking for an Archie Miller, Kenny Payne or Damon Stoudamire to come in here and blow us away, Kent is still a splash-hire on merit and he has advantages and a resume that none of those coaches possess. He’s put on the WSU tape and watched them live so many times that he knows the Cougars’ strengths and weaknesses, or at the very least has an understanding of them.
Somewhat by incident, this Cougar team is also built (if you ask me) to take advantage of what Kent’s offense is; spread em and attack, constantly — otherwise known as the Continuity Motion Offense. If you don’t have time to get into that link right now, it’s basically Leach’s version of the Air-Raid on a basketball court. You think Moos wasn’t thinking “exciting basketball” with this hire?
Think of when WSU played UCLA these past two years at home, then add 15 points and multiply that by like 30 games per year. The idea is to play an aggressive, no-nonsense style that leads to lots of open looks earlier in the shot clock, leading to more chances at outscoring the opponent, which means wins, which leads to playing even more games than that at the end of the season. And don’t think that means no defense! This guy molded some individual defensive talent in his time at Oregon as well. Not Tony Bennett-esque team defense by any stretch, but still solid stoppers. All told, it’s gonna be fun to watch!
And if you’re thinking “we just saw how that works out with Bone and it wasn’t that pretty”, the principles were completely different. All the wrong guys were set up to shoot the ball from points on the floor at which they were comfortably uncomfortable (just think about that for a sec) and generally time was running down on the possession when they finally ended up in said positions. Also, there was little ‘strength-on-strength’ pairing with Bone, putting kids in the right position to do what they do best, D.J. Shelton and Jordan Railey being the prime examples. Shelton was used as a primary half-court ball handler/shooter in Bone’s offense. In Kent’s offense, he’d be used as a catch-and-shoot slasher, you know, where he could really be effective. Railey would then be a clean-up man at the rim, as opposed to a floater in the 10-15 foot area. These aren’t really nuances, just things that a good offensive coach knows how to execute. Kent will make much more sense out of his players’ strengths.
As I said before Kent also brings a knowledge of the area for recruiting and plenty of experience in what needs to happen to pull big names from the West, in particular the Northwest region. That can’t be stated enough.
Can you imagine if Joe Harris had stayed in-state and come to play at WSU? Instead he heads to Virginia to play with Tony Bennett and ends up in the school and ACC record books for 3-point makes. That’s the type of kid that Kent can get in the Cougar program, as long as he hires some quality assistants to help him in the cause, which we should fully expect him to. In my opinion, if there’s one spot I think we can expect Kent to really rival Tony Bennett on immediately, it’s recruiting. That in itself is an exciting idea, preconceived notions be darned.
Ernie Kent will automatically become the most tenured coach in this Pac-12 Conference, but his overall background is more of a positive than negative at this point for what this program needs. Make no mistake, at 59, he should still have plenty of juice in the tank. For some reference on just how ‘not-old’ that is let’s look at some of college basketball’s Deans and see if you still have a negative outlook on the age-effect; Dick Vitale is 74, Former UCONN coach Jim Calhoun is 71 (69 when he retired), Jim Boeheim at Syracuse is 69, Coach K at Duke is 67, Roy Williams at North Carolina is 63, Rick Pitino at Louisville is 61 and Tom Izzo at Michigan State is Kent’s ripe age of 59 years old.
I’d say there’s just a little bit of success derived there and according to the resume I put up at the beginning of this piece, Kent is a lot closer than people realize to a success pattern that is downright tough to achieve in college basketball. He did that at Oregon folks, while Oregon basketball was still becoming what Oregon basketball is today. In a conference that typically stamps out the Northwest with California and Arizona power. All things considered, he was arguably the most successful coach this region of the Pac 8/10/12 has ever seen, and there have been some darn good coaches.
Finally, of course, Kent comes affordable enough and the connection with Moos from their previous experience together in Eugene is a bigger deal then people will admit. Coach and AD being on the same wavelength helps to resolve so many issues, as Mike Leach can attest to. When the big guy backs you up, you can run the program the way it needs, which will be a big plus for Kent.
Here’s what the newest WSU head coach said in his initial press release that should have you fired up:
I’m looking forward to providing the kind of passion and leadership to help potential student-athletes understand how special WSU is. Getting back into coaching for me has meant finding the right program that matches up with my passion, my vision, my beliefs and my commitment; and I feel Washington State University fits all that criteria for me. Bill Moos has a vision and has created enormous energy around Cougar Athletics and I want to be a part of that. Now is the time.
“As a player I saw the energetic environment that George Raveling’s teams created, as an assistant I witnessed Kelvin Sampson’s squads and saw the magic here and as a head coach I saw the excitement created by Tony Bennett. When WSU is having success, Beasley Coliseum is one of the best environments in the West. The students are so passionate, I saw 5,000 of them out there ready to go during warm-ups, one of the few places I’ve ever witnessed that. When you’ve seen that arena full and the program was at its best and now you have the opportunity to lead that program and you understand the potential that exists, that is very special to me.”
How often can you finish basically last (tied for last and one win above last) in back-to-back seasons in this conference and expect to get that caliber of coach at your school? I tell you what, I’m ecstatic for the future of this program because of what Ernie Kent brings to the table. While he’s not that “big-time” name some were really hoping for, it’s certainly better than we really should have expected and all that extra stuff gives an immediate vault of house-money to Bill Moos. Hopefully WSU gets to play with it and turn it into wins.