Three coaching candidates for WSU men’s basketball

Washington State pulled the cord and fired Ernie Kent on Thursday after a disastrous loss in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament — the school confirmed the move a few hours later.

Kent finished his five year tenure at WSU with a 58-98 record (22-68 conference record), and his best season was his first one where the team was surprisingly competitive with Ken Bone’s recruits. For the last four years, the fired coach had arguably the best player at WSU since Klay Thompson left for the draft in Robert Franks and was unable to finish over ninth in an extremely week Pac-12.

The move, while desired by Cougar fans everywhere, came as a shock as it means that the school is going to have to eat the rest of the 64-year old coach’s $4.2 million salary — thanks to the fact that former athletic director Bill Moos automatically rolled over Kent’s contract during his first three years on campus — while paying a new coach at the same time. But current WSU athletic director Pat Chun pulled the trigger despite the sunk cost in that monstrosity of a contract.

Chun is promising a national search for the next head coach of men’s basketball. Without any specific knowledge of a donor, or multiple donor’s writing a check to cover the full cost of the buyout…we have to assume that the school is limited on the salary it can pay to a new coach and their staff. Which is only going to make this job more toxic than it already is, because of the over reliance on Juco transfers.

Travis DeCuire, Montana Grizzlies (106-57 overall, 71-21 Big Sky)

The Montana alum has won one conference tournament — the Grizzlies play in the conference tournament semifinals Friday at 4:30 PM — play in the third regular season conference championship in five years. DeCuire’s success allowed the Griz to sign him to a three-year contract extension last off season that took his base salary from $155,000 to $175,000 per year on a three-year extension.

His offense posted an adjusted offensive efficiency rating (points scored per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponents) of 107.4 (113th) and a adjusted defensive efficiency rating (points allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponents) of 105 (188th in the country). For comparison’s sake, Kent’s final WSU squad adjusted offensive efficiency rating was 1o5.8 (141st) and its defensive rating was 110.3 (292nd)…despite being in the Pac-12 with access to better recruits, and more difficult opponents, the Cougs were worse than DeCuire’s most recent squad.

Now the biggest concern about this potential hire is that DeCuire didn’t have to rebuild at his alma mater. Former Griz head coach, and current Oregon State headman, Wayne Tinkle left the program in a really good position; DeCuire has taken that success and built upon it in his first head coaching gig. But he’d also be in that salary range that Washington State is probably going to be able to afford…and with an impressive body of work at a smaller school in a smaller conference.

Unfortunately, I think the WSU job is too toxic for DeCuire (a young, up and coming coach) to be very interested in.

Kyle Smith, San Francisco Dons (63-40 in current job, 143-112 career record )

Kyle Smith would be an out of the box hire for Washington State, but he’s just signed a multi-year contract extension after leading the Dons to back-to-back 20-win seasons in July, 2018; during the 2018-19 season, Smith led San Francisco to its third straight 20-win season.

This year’s Dons squad posted the 42nd best adjuster offensive efficiency and 130th best adjusted defensive efficiency rating according to Kenpom. San Francisco struggles against the top of the WCC (Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, and BYU), but absolutely dominated the bottom half. The biggest problem I have with Smith is that he’s avoided tough non-conference schedules during his time on the Hilltop.

Prior to his current gig, Smith was the head coach at Columbia University; where his 15-13 mark after his first season made him the first coach to finish his inaugural season with a winning record. If there’s a coach out there who could succeed at an okay level with the talent currently on the roster, I think it’s Smith…his ability to recruit at a level sufficient for the Pac-12 would be another question.

Mervin Menzies, UNLV (38-48 at UNLV, 234-149 career record)

Mervin Menzies third season at UNLV saw the Rebels reach the Mountain West Championship game, which they lost to San Diego State. He would be the most expensive of the three options as he’s currently making $700K a year…but he’s got the most experience coaching and recruiting at higher level D1 programs on this list.

The bulk of the 57-year old’s career record comes from maintaining a high level of success at New Mexico State; where he he spent nine seasons coaching and finished with less then 20-wins only twice. After the 2015-16 season, he left his first coaching job to coach at UNLV. Menzie’s first season in Sin City was disappointing as he went 11-21; but since then he’s gone 20-13 and 17-14.

He’d bring the most gravitas to the position, and would be seen as someone who might be able to right the ship and get the same spent level more up to a Pac-12 level — his recruiting did improve with his move to the Mountain West. But it’s unlikely that he’d want to leave such a stable job for a program that has no facility improvements on the horizon.