"A lot of jobs, people look at as being steppingstones. To me, hopefully, this will be the last step. I would love to stay here and finish my career. ... I know this is a place I could love for as long as I can stay."
- Ken Bone
April 7, 2009
And with that, Coug nation was thrown into a tizzy.
After spending the last three offseasons years trying to read the tea leaves and figure out when our young, up-and-coming coach was going to finally leave us for a higher-paying job, then having it happen when we all least expected, it seems a little odd to me that Bone was only our coach for about 24 hours before people already were hanging on his every word, trying to estimate how long he'd want to stick around.
But, such is our Cougar angst -- 24 hours is probably our limit in terms of wondering when the next time is that somebody's going to tell us we're not as good as somebody else. Because of this, the speculation doesn't surprise me.
What does surprise me, however, is just how willing everyone is to buy into the notion that this might really be the last stop for Bone.
Steve Kelley of The Seattle Times wrote, "He is the perfect choice. This will be a destination job for him."
After Bone said, "The Pac-10 is as high as I ever dreamed of going," The (Tacoma) News Tribune's John McGrath wrote, "That wasn’t something Bennett, or George Raveling, or Kelvin Sampson could say with a straight face. For them, the Pacific-10 Conference might as well have been called the Gateway Conference, or the Stepping-Stone Conference. For Ken Bone, the Pac-10 is the Big-Time Conference."
Even the most angst-ridden of all old-time Cougs, Jim Moore, couldn't contain himself: "Now this is the kind of basketball coach the Cougs need -- one who knows he's reached the pinnacle of his profession in Pullman. ... It's time to print up a bunch of 'Tony Who?' T-shirts and welcome Bone, a coach who truly wants to be at Washington State, just like football coach Paul Wulff."
I'll acknowledge that for all the reasons enumerated in all of these pieces, it's certainly easier to imagine Bone wanting to stick around in Pullman for the long haul than Bennett. He's older, he's got deep Northwest ties, and he's already shown he's not afraid to stick somewhere outside the bright lights for an extended period of time.
But frankly, I'm surprised at all the optimism.
First, we're all making a gigantic assumption -- that Bone will be an unmitigated success as coach of the Cougs.
Don't get me wrong. I'm as confident as anyone that Bone can win games at WSU, and I would be the president of the Ken Bone fan club if there was one. But let's face it: He's going to try and do it in a way that hasn't really ever been done successfully in Pullman. Again, I'm not saying it can't be done; I'm just saying it's not a slam dunk. It's one thing to play that style and be successful at Division II and the Big Sky, but it's something altogether different to try and play that way against the elite athletes of the Pac-10.
The Bennetts showed they can recruit the kinds of players to Pullman it takes to win their way; whether Bone can do the same is hardly a foregone conclusion.
But let's assume he is successful. What's to say Bone won't get that itch to move on?
In the Kelley piece, much is made of Bone's competitive streak. That could work to our favor if he makes it his personal mission to succeed -- long term -- where others have failed or been unwilling. But at what point does a highly competitive guy seek out the next challenge? Even Mike Price -- who could have been the king of WSU athletics, revered eternally for his accomplishments -- couldn't resist the urge to see what he could do with some of the most expansive resources in college football.
Let's say Bone is crazy successful with the kids in the program, and he starts to realize and resent some of the same things Bennett reportedly did -- banging his head against the proverbial wall with how hard you have to work, and how much time you have to spend on the road, to recruit here. Will a 53- or 55-year-old Ken Bone, being courted by a big-time basketball school and knowing it would probably be his last chance to move on, really stay at WSU?
Maybe. But maybe not.
I raise all of these issues not to dampen the enthusiasm -- which I absolutely love -- but to encourage you to just live in the moment.
Anthony Brown and Xavier Thames are coming to town, and I have little doubt that Brock Motum is far behind. I also wouldn't be shocked if Bone swooped in late and snatched up a guy who isn't firmly committed yet; after hearing the way he charmed Thames, I'm pretty sure this guy can sell ice to an eskimo. And there's a strong, strong core of talent here for him to mold and have success with for the next couple of years while he builds relationships for the 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes.
Bone is doing all of the right things right now, and that's what's most important to focus on.