I've already failed my New Year's Resolution.
Well, actually two of them. The first one ended up going under roughly an hour or so into January 1st when my wife and I stopped at the Jack in the Box Drive Thru on the way home from a NYE party; the second one happened yesterday: I've really got to stop getting into dumb arguments on the internet.
It's hard to get onto twitter, a gamethread or wherever your favorite real time hangout to bitch about Cougar basketball any time there's a game underway. Usually these days the Cougs are losing (badly) and it's hard to crack jokes with an air of animosity that's been building for roughly three or four years now for our head coach. Seriously, this one was gold and it got buried!
Herb Sendek missed his calling by not attending Princess Bride conventions...— Kyle Sherwood (@BigWoodWSU) January 5, 2014
Most of it is deserved. Most of it. I don't like the losing as much as anyone else. I've given up trying to defend the coaching staff after throwing out a ton of (VALID) excuses for the guy over the first few years. Last year, my faith in Cougar basketball dwindled to "we can't afford to fire him so we might as well put the pitchforks away for a while" and recently modified to "he's getting fired in a couple months, so we might as well put the pitchforks away for a while."
I realize emotions are high with this team. This was supposed to be the make or break year for Ken Bone and this team chose "break." Overwhelmingly. So when the fans I follow on twitter are calling for the coach's head, I've resolved to let it go this year.
And then I just get this itch....
Yesterday (before the blowout began), a Coug blogger whose opinion I respect suggested that we fire Bone now so we can give Curtis Allen some experience. What started as a playful jab over how it could possible to have such a trainwreck head coach whose primary assistant has been a shining star just in need of a tryout this entire five years and how many Disney movies that idea could spawn, all of a sudden the angry responses from everyone else started coming in. We need to fire him now! Leave him in Arizona! Dental Plan!
And I responded to nearly all of them. What had started as a lighthearted joke had devolved into a full blown argument with multiple participants. And nobody won. And afterwards I felt terrible.
So I guess rather than get into message board/comment section/twitter wars over the next couple months, I figured I'd just state my position on the state of our basketball team and hope I don't shoehorn myself into a stance I never intended to make again.
So here it is (EMBOLDENED!)
Ken Bone will (and should) be fired at the conclusion of this season.
I feel like I need to say this because I do make some (AGAIN VALID) excuses for this staff that might make it sound like I am still defiantly supportive of them. When I point out that the Bone era is probably not on the same level as the Paul Wulff era, a time when our fans spent more time focusing on how much class the opposing coach had by not running up the score on us, or the Paul Graham era, a coach who announced IN HIS OPENING PRESS CONFERENCE that he was jumping ship the first chance he got and then proceeded to go 1-17 in Pac-10 play more often than he didn't, this is not me saying we should keep Bone around. It's me merely saying there's probably some middle ground between "worst ever" and "you're doing a heckuva job, coach". Maybe that distinction doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, but I'd like to think we can handle these last couple months with a modicum of tranquility. Maybe tranquility left town on the plane to Charlottesville. I don't know.
Last month, one of our community members deftly pointed out my hypocrisy towards my expectations of the football team (high) with what I expect from the basketball team (not much at all). Am I a hypocrite? Probably. But I also think my expectations are in line with the athletic department in general. My expectations for football weren't too high in the Paul Wulff era, simply because financially we weren't really trying to keep up with anybody. Bill Moos has put together a pretty fantastic vision of what our football program should be doing and has followed through on all of his promises. He finished up the Suite/Club area that literally triples our gate revenues, hired a big name coach with the ability to attract better players and most importantly is providing our coaches with the tools they need to win football games (operations building, money for assistants, etc). For basketball, we don't really do any of these things. There is a very real facilities gap between WSU and the rest of the Pac-12. And when I'm referring to facilities, I'm not talking about the orange seats in Beasley. I believe every other school in our conference has a dedicated basketball building (for example, Oregon State's is opening soon), they all charter more flights than WSU and all have new locker rooms. Do these things win basketball games? Of course not. But these are the things that will attract a coach the entire fanbase will deem worthy and in turn will attract players better suited to win basketball games. We didn't get blown out by Arizona because we don't have new locker rooms, but you could make a case we've already lost the 2016 game against Arizona without any plans for improvement. Can we win without these things? Sure, but the margin for error becomes non-existent. And when you're dealing with 18-22 year olds, nothing's going to be perfect.
I used to say one of the worst long-term things that ever happened to WSU athletics was the run of 10-win seasons at the beginning of the millennium. I'm assuming at least 30 people stopped reading at this sentence and started writing their e-mails to Nusser calling for my resignation, but bear with me for a minute. The 2001-2003 seasons were built by-and-large by the 1999 recruiting class. Mike Price cashed in on the Ryan Leaf magic and pulled in what still remains the highest ranked recruiting class to ever commit to WSU. While Jeremy Williams, Matt Kegel, Marcus Trufant, Rien Long and Ike Brown worked their way up the depth charts, WSU spent three years laying waste to (most of) the rest of the Pac-10, and our fans built up this mantra that probably screwed us over for the next decade: WSU does more with less. Now while it's fun to point out how our team would blow out a UCLA squad filled with four and five star recruits, our fans were actually taking pride in the fact that our athletic department didn't have any money. So while this magical recruiting class made its way through and ultimately left Pullman, the rest of the Pac-10 was investing in facilities, assistant coaching staffs and building big-ticket seating areas to improve cash flow. WSU sat on its hands and kept repeating the do more with less mantra and ultimately found itself 10th in the Pac-10 with no #9 in sight. In fact, smaller schools like Utah and Boise State picked up on our gameplan and implemented it better than we did. Wulff bottoming out (with a HUGE assist from the Pac-12 TV money) was the kick in the pants the football program needed with an understanding that an investment needed to be made in order to compete. We don't need to spend as much as USC to compete with them, but we do need to spend X-amount.
We haven't learned from our football mistakes apparently, because we are just repeating the same thing with the basketball program. I see our depressed fans on all corners of the internet who miss when WSU was good. It's almost like we think WSU being good is the default and we're just in some five-year long aberration. Assuming Bone is fired in April, WSU will be hiring its sixth coach in the past twenty years and seventh coach in the past 22. It hasn't been going well.
But like the 1999 football class, our basketball program rode a 2004 recruiting class so ridiculous that every lump of coal turned out to be a full-blown diamond (seriously, Chris Henry was the highest rated recruit in the Low/Weaver/Cowgill/Harmeling year). How lucky was WSU in that era? It took what is possibly the largest natural disaster in American history to land our point guard for those teams.
I'm not going to chalk up the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons as all luck, but you have to admit that absolutely everything went our way to build those teams. Obviously a great deal of planning and evaluation went into that class, but WSU pretty much flipped a coin a hundred times and it landed on heads for 98 of them.
This piece isn't about Tony Bennett. But it does need to be said that WSU didn't do much of anything to build on those two years, Bennett left and now our fans have inflated expectations because those two incredibly magical years have shown if absolutely everything (and I mean everything) breaks right, WSU can put together a good basketball team. The problem is that flipping a coin a hundred times, you're probably going to get tails half the time, so the two-year run of perfection with no backing investment was never going to be sustainable. We're back to demanding the athletic department do more with less with no signs of changing anything. Our fans truly believe all we need is some bright young coach to come in and we can wipe our hands of everything, sit back and watch the tournament appearances start rolling in. WSU has hired a TON of coaches since 1994. Getting a new coach every three or four years isn't good for the program long-term (again, read the bold statement up top if you think this is a defense of the current staff). We can't continue to roll the dice every four years and get upset when the same result happens each time (and it has; 2014 is nothing WSU hasn't gone through before). What we can do is begin the process to make the WSU job an attractive place to coach basketball in the way we have for football, so we can actually have some expectations that aren't irrational (and hey, if the team does suck, we'll know for sure it was the coach's fault!)
So I promise I'll leave you all alone on twitter and in the comment sections now. I know you're angry about this team, and it's ridiculous for me to challenge your thoughts when I more or less agree with you, just not the hyperbole. I will be a gigantic supporter of whomever Bill Moos hires in April (provided it's not Ernie Kent), but will again be weary knowing the next coach is either also going to not be able handle the competitive disadvantage at WSU or will leave for a school with less chance of error at first opportunity. We have the ability to change things for the better. It's just a matter of whether or not we're ready to start trying or keep paying lip service. In the meantime, we all know Bone is done in 17 games. There's really no need for any of us to be waving torches anymore.
Go Cougs (see you all at the bonfire in April!).