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The life of an assistant: Ed Haskins left in limbo following coaching change at WSU

After two years, he wants to stay. But will new coach Kyle Smith keep him around?

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

PULLMAN — Returning home from attending the Final Four, Washington State Cougars assistant basketball coach Ed Haskins — at least, that’s still his title for now — stood in the rain in the parking lot of Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport, discussing his uncertain future.

Nearly two weeks have passed since Kyle Smith was hired as WSU’s new men’s basketball coach, and Haskins is still waiting for the call, hoping the new guy in charge will give him a shot to be a part of his staff. He’s stuck in the assistant coach limbo that’s inherent to the turmoil that comes in the wake of a coaching change.

“I haven’t done this before,” Haskins said, “so I don’t know if this is normal.”

Haskins joined Ernie Kent’s coaching staff exactly two years ago to the day, leaving behind Seattle high school powerhouse Garfield to give college coaching a shot. It seemed the idea was that he’d give Kent, who had struggled to recruit the fertile Seattle area, a foot in the door with kids on the west side of the state. And it did pay dividends: Behind Haskins’ efforts, the Cougs landed CJ Elleby, who turned out to be one of the top freshmen in the Pac-12.

Haskins’ ties to WSU are deep, and well documented: His late brother, Aaron, played for George Raveling in the early 1980s and was the first and only player at WSU to go to a pair of NCAA tournaments until Tony Bennett’s teams made back-to-back appearances, leading Haskins to call this a “dream job” when he was hired — “like, literally, a dream job,” he says — which he made sure to note to the staff of Garfield High School when he left for Pullman.

He said he took that note out recently a re-read it, and said he feels the same way today that he did then, and emphasizes that WSU was not his first opportunity to move into the college ranks. The Cougs just had a unique appeal.

“Being an 8-/9-/10-year-old guy coming over here and watching the greatness of what Coach Raveling did back then, and seeing my brother be a part of that, seeing my brother play against guys like Ralph Sampson in Virginia in that first round (of the NCAA tournament). It was incredible to see those things,” recalled Haskins. “Seeing him play his saxophone on his senior night for the national anthem, and that same night they beat the No. 2 team, UCLA ... my brother was a part of all that. I was there to see that, I was there to see it all, I saw exactly what it was — the crowds, it was a really big deal. And so that’s why it was a dream, for me.”

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Washington State
CJ Elleby was the most impactful high school recruit landed during Ernie Kent’s tenure, and Ed Haskins had a huge hand in that.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

That particular dream is on the verge of ending. Haskins’ trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota, wasn’t for fun or just to take in a few good games; the Final Four is where coaches from all over the country go to network and maybe try to figure out the next landing spot in a profession that’s notoriously unstable. Haskins doesn’t want to leave, though — he absolutely wants to stick around WSU and help Smith build a winner. And he believes he has a lot to offer.

“I just feel like Pullman is a good home for me and my family, and more than that, I think Washington State basketball is not far away from being a winner,” Haskins said. “We have the pieces, and now having an incredible coach who is a proven winner in Coach Smith, I feel like there are some things that I can bring to his staff that are pretty unique.”

He touted his familiarity with the west coast, particularly the traditionally basketball-fertile Seattle area, and notes that Smith featured two players from Seattle on his roster at San Francisco. He believes WSU’s current players are talented and would benefit from the fresh start of a new head coach.

After two years of hard work to build something here in Pullman, Haskins wants to see the turnaround through under a coach he believes is the right fit for the job. He’s even seen it up close: Two years ago, Smith’s team made the trip north for a preseason closed-door scrimmage, and Haskins said the Dons “came in and beat us pretty good.”

There was always was a risk for Haskins in coming to WSU, which he was well aware of. And he’s certainly only one of many people affected; Haskins hasn’t talked to anyone else on the staff, but it seems they’re all in the same boat:

  • Bennie Seltzer, who joined the staff at the same time as Haskins, will be moving on from the school at which he starred as a player; if he keeps coaching, he’ll be joining his sixth program in the last 13 years.
  • Tim Marrion, meanwhile, is another WSU alumnus who started out as a student assistant has worked his way up through the ranks — mostly at WSU — before finally getting promoted before last season to become a full-time assistant at a high major program for the first time.
  • Recruiting coordinator Elwyn McRoy and director of operations Kenny Tripp are also presumably now looking around.

While Ernie Kent walks away with $4.2 million, real people of far less means are left to scramble. But Haskins is hopeful.

“Coaching has been incredible. It’s taken me places I never dreamed I would go and done things I never dreamed I would do,” Haskins said. “But it’s what I do, it’s not who I am, so it doesn’t define me. But it is my passion and I do feel like it’s a part of what I’m supposed to be doing on this planet. Just being able to help young men out in the way that we do, I just feel like it’s part of it. If God blesses me with the opportunity to continue to do it, great, then we’ll continue to do it — at whatever level. And if not, we’ll move forward.”

And if it doesn’t work out with Smith? There won’t be any bitter feelings toward WSU.

“Regardless of what happens, I’ll always be a Coug, I’ll always root for the Cougs, and I’m in 100% support of the Cougs and Coug basketball,” Haskins said.