Pac-12 Coaching Turnover: Montgomery Out; Kent In; Robinson Holds

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on April 1st, 2014

At the end of the Pac-12 Tournament, it seemed like we would get through this offseason with just one Pac-12 head coaching change – Washington State, where Ken Bone’s five-year run in Pullman was coming to an end. There was some smoke around the status of Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson, but conference commissioner Larry Scott seemed to put a damper on that notion prior to the Pac-12 title game when he announced that Robinson and his staff would be coaching a team of barnstorming Pac-12 stars in China later this year. Elsewhere around the conference, it seemed like continuity was the rule of the day.

In 32 Seasons as a Division I Head Coach, Montgomery Had Just One Losing Season (Ben Margot, AP)

In 32 Seasons as a Division I Head Coach, Montgomery Had Just One Losing Season (Ben Margot, AP)

Then on Sunday, as college basketball fans were enjoying a day of great Elite Eight competition, word snuck out that the dean of Pac-12 coaches, Mike Montgomery, was weighing the possibility of stepping down from his position at California. That possibility became a fact on Monday when Montgomery announced his retirement. His accomplishments are legion, including 32 seasons of Division I basketball coaching and winning records in 31 of those campaigns. In 1986, he took over a Stanford program that hadn’t been to an NCAA Tournament in 45 years and was coming off a 23-loss season and turned it into an NCAA Tournament team in just his third season there. All told, there were 12 NCAA Tournament bids at Stanford (including at least one NCAA win in his last 10 seasons on The Farm), one trip to the Final Four (1998, behind Arthur Lee, Kris Weems, Peter Sauer, Mark Madsen and Tim Young), an Elite Eight, and 677 career wins. He coached in the Pac-12 for 24 years and ranks third on the all-time wins list in conference play behind only Lute Olson and John Wooden. He retires as the best coach in Stanford basketball history and the best coach at Berkeley since the legendary Pete Newell.

The “why” of the matter is easy: It was just time for a 67-year old man to move on to, as he put it on Monday, to “the next phase” of his life. The “what’s next” is a little more muddy. For Monty, don’t expect him to be one of those guys who retires this year and at this time next year is considering another job. However, with the Pac-12 offices conveniently located in his home Bay Area, and with a couple of schools in the area, maybe he tries his hand as an analyst next season. As for California, athletic director Sandy Barbour must begin a coaching search. Travis DeCuire, who was the associate head coach under Montgomery for the past two seasons (and a total of six seasons on Montgomery’s staff) could possibly shift over one seat into the hot seat (and he’s certainly Montgomery’s pick), while outside candidates will also be considered. Jeff Borzello of floated some of the more reasonable outside candidates in UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner and Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack.

Kent Will Face an Uphill Battle at Washington State (Rick Bowmer, AP)

Ernie Kent Will Face an Uphill Battle at Washington State (Rick Bowmer, AP)

On the same day that Montgomery’s departure became official, Washington State finally announced the hiring of its new head coach: Ernie Kent, formerly the head coach at Oregon from 1997-2010. Kent was among the first names mentioned in connection with the job back when Bone was fired two weeks ago, but the school tried to first lure Leon Rice away from Boise State. Considering the nature of the job and the challenges that lie ahead, it’s a fine hire — not the flashiest thing in the world, but not a complete disaster either. Kent’s got plenty of personality, and he’ll need it, because job number one is to find some kind of way to increase the talent level in Pullman. The gap between the Cougars and most other teams in this conference has been wide the past two years, with Brock Motum and DaVonte Lacy and a couple of others surrounded by guys earning significant minutes who wouldn’t even have a scholarship at most other places in the Pac-12. Kent has been given a five-year contract (terms not yet disclosed), and barring a disaster of some kind, he’ll likely need all five years to try to rebuild Washington State.

Lastly, at Oregon State, Robinson appears safe for another year. John Canzano of The Oregonian first reported that he expects Robinson to be retained. Then on Friday he flipped and said that he had received signals that the end was near, with both sides potentially looking for a way to split. And then, later that same day, athletic director Bob De Carolis released a statement backing Robinson and confirming that he’d be back for the 2014-15 season. Although he stopped short of requiring an NCAA Tournament berth next season, De Carolis noted that he wants Robinson to move the program toward that goal. Keep in mind that this is a program that, in the 15 years prior to Robinson’s arrival on the campus, went 66-204 in conference play, averaging 4.4 wins per Pac-10 season. The program has gone 8-10 in conference play already twice in Robinson’s six-year tenure; and only once since 1990 have the Beavers won more than those eight conference games (a 9-9 record in 1992-93). In other words, Oregon State is a very difficult job, and the administration seems to understand that.

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