As per usual, WSU athletics director Bill Moos has been incredibly tight lipped about the future of men's basketball coach Ken Bone since the team's season came to an end a week ago after a first round Pac-12 Tournament loss to Washington.
And as you would expect when it comes to a coach who has yet to live up to the lofty standard set by his predecessor, there's much discussion about whether Bone should be keeping his job after this, his fourth season.
We've been over the nuts and bolts of the situation before, but just to recap:
- Bone has a 70-65 overall record, one of just five WSU coaches since the legendary Fred Bohler to exceed .500 in his career. However, he does get the benefit of padding the ledger with more nonconference games -- most of which are cupcakes -- than virtually all of the coaches who came before him.
- He has a 26-46 (.342) record in Pac-10/12 play, with two last-place finishes. According to kenpom.com, the league rated 6th, 5th, 7th and 5th in those four years. For comparison, the league rated 1st, 2nd and 4th in Tony Bennett's three years, and 5th, 6th and 8th in Dick Bennett's three years. Dick Bennett's Pac-10 record was 18-36 (.333).
- He has zero Pac-12 tournament wins, for whatever that's worth. (In my mind, not much, honestly.)
- He has zero NCAA tournament appearances, although he took one team to the NIT semifinals and another the CBI finals.
- He's got three years left on a contract that would require a $2.55 million buyout. (Although the blow can be lessened by a provision that allows the balance to be paid out monthly over the remainder of the contract.)
We all try to read the tea leaves as to whether Moos will be making a change, but we all also know that's probably futile, given how the whole thing with Paul Wulff and Mike Leach went down. But that never stopped anyone from speculating, right?
One thing we know about Moos is that he's not just living in the moment -- he's always thinking big picture. Three ... five ... ten years from now. The move to get Leach was a big picture move for the long-term health of not just the football program, but the entire athletics department.
Maybe Wulff deserved another year. The team almost certainly would have been better than it was the year before. But at some point, Moos made up his mind: Paul Wulff is not the man to lead this program where I want it to go. So he made a change that might have seemed unfair or unseemly or whatever, but it was a change that Moos deemed necessary for the big picture.
I humbly submit to you that Moos needs to make up his mind in a similar fashion about Bone this offseason. No, the stakes aren't as high, but still: If Moos sticks with him now, this isn't just a one-year postponement -- I think there's a high probability that Ken Bone is still your coach in five years at a cost that likely will dwarf the money that he's owed now.
Why? Here's my thought process.
First off, the team will almost certainly be better next year. They'll miss Mike Ladd and Brock Motum, of course, but so many of the young players will be a year older and presumably a year better. Que Johnson, Ikenna Iroegbu, Brett Kingma and Jordan Railey will provide an influx of talent that will make the team deeper. The offense really ought to be more potent, and it's hard to imagine a world where the defense is worse. (Although, I guess anything is possible when it comes to a Ken Bone defense.) And if you want to add in that the team's luck/execution late in games has nowhere to go but up, I won't stop you from saying it.
So, if the team is better -- say, even just a few games better at 7-11 or 8-10 in the Pac-12 -- are you going to fire him then? The program is clearly on an upward arc with just about every piece returning, so probably not. But you're also not extending him with two years left on the deal.
He then enters the following year not as a lame duck, but with a lot of pressure: Everyone knows he's not getting to the final year of the deal -- he'll either be fired or extended based on what the team does that season. WSU ought to be loaded for a run at the NCAA tournament: The only regular rotation player who graduates next year will be D.J. Shelton, everyone else will be back, and the team will be stacked with seniors and juniors.
If the team does end up getting to the tournament, his extension is a no brainer. But recruiting likely will have taken a hit in the process as the soap opera of whether he was staying or going played out. And this doesn't even address what might happen if they're merely a bubble team that misses the NCAAs.
Obviously, if the team is a complete train wreck, you let him go. But if they're better for a second consecutive year, but still not where you want to be, are you giving him that extension? It's a tough call, because if you extend Bone at that point, he's almost certainly the coach for at least a few years beyond that. Or, as we said earlier: still the coach five years from now.
So, what it comes back to is this: Is Moos convinced Bone is the guy? Is he convinced that once this group peaks in two years, we're not headed back for the bottom of the conference after Royce Woolridge, DaVonte Lacy, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Jordan Railey all graduate? If so, keeping Bone now makes sense.
But if Moos is convinced that Bone just doesn't have the chops to sustain his expected level of excellence with this program -- and only Moos truly knows what that is -- then he's got to bite the bullet right now and let the coach go.
Because here's the alternative: If Moos has decided he's not the guy long-term but doesn't make a change, then not only are you knowingly wasting two prime years of talent, but you're also rolling the dice that he doesn't back you into a corner with better-than-expected results. And if he does do that, it's going to cost you more money in the long run than the $2.55 million you'd be deciding to pay out right now.
Like I said, it's a tough call, and it likely will be influenced by other factors, such as whether Moos can get the financial blessing to do it and whether he thinks he can land one of the guys he's got on his revolving short list of potential replacements. I guess that's why Moos makes about 10 times as much as I do.
Given all this, what should he do? Or do you think I'm way off base on how this all will play out if allowed to?