BY Howie Stalwick 09:30AM 03/14/2014

Dollar watch on after Seattle U.’s season ends

Redhawks (13-17) lost in the first round Thursday of the WAC tourney, leading to speculation about whether coach Cameron Dollar’s five-year run will continue.

Coach Cameron Dollar has struggled in Seattle University’s first two seasons in the Western Athletic Conference. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

LAS VEGAS – Bill Hogan is an athletic director by trade, but no Las Vegas showgirl has ever flashed more impressive moves than Hogan when he danced around questions about the future of his basketball coach Thursday night.

Speculation is ripe that Cameron Dollar, hired by Hogan five years ago when Seattle University returned to the NCAA Division I ranks, may have coached his final game with the Redhawks.

Not that Hogan was showing his hand – fitting, perhaps, in this haven for gambling — during an interview with Sportspress NW prior to Seattle’s tough 70-68 loss to New Mexico State in the opening round of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.

Bill, can you address rumors about Dollar’s job status?

Hogan: “We’re excited about tonight.”

Is Dollar’s contract up?

“I can’t respond to that.”

Will Dollar return as coach next season?

Hogan: “We’re still in the season.”

Well, not anymore. The Redhawks, who have finished last in both their seasons in the WAC after three years as an independent, suffered through losing seasons every year since going 17-14 in 2009-10, their first season back in D-One. Dollar’s record is 61-87 (8-25 WAC), including 13-17 (5-11) this season.

“We all knew it was going to be a long-term building (project),” Cameron said after Thursday’s heartbreaking defeat.

Cameron, who exchanged post-game hugs with Hogan, said he has “never heard the rumors” about his job possibly being in jeopardy. The former Washington Huskies assistant said his contract is “not even close” to being completed. Like Hogan, he declined to reveal terms of his contract.

Asked if he expects to be back next season, Dollar told Sportspress NW, “You’d have to ask somebody else. That’d be news to me (if he’s not back).”

A triumph over New Mexico State (24-9), the only WAC team with much national cachet, would have helped Cameron and his program. The Redhawks led most of the game, faded in the second half – worn down, perhaps, from battling 7-foot-5, 355-pound Sim Bhullar, who is only slightly smaller than Yakima — then rallied dramatically at the end.

“We’ve been scrapping like that all year,” Cameron said.

“I feel bad for Cameron,” Aggies coach Marvin Mendies said. “He’s a good friend of mine. I thought their team played really, really well, enough to win.”

The Redhawks lose just two seniors and return All-WAC second-team point guard Isiah Umipig, plus two quality players (Deshaun Sunderhaus and Emerson Murray) who were lost to injury during the season.

“We have a lot coming back,” Umipig said after scoring 25 points Thursday, albeit on 9-for-27 shooting. Win or lose, the Redhawks need to put more butts in the seats at KeyArena. Three years in a row of declining attendance has not increased the value of the Dollar, so to speak. Announced attendance at the Key fell short of 2,200 this season, and the number of paid customers on hand was even less. Hogan was not pleased.

“The men’s basketball program is the primary revenue generator in athletics (at Seattle U),” Hogan said. “That’s just the way it is.”

He added, “We understand that in Seattle, you have to produce a winner. That doesn’t happen overnight, but eventually, when we are really successful on the floor, we’ll have bigger crowds.”

Hogan seems similarly realistic about the challenges faced by a basketball coaching staff transitioning a program to Division I.

“We knew there were going to be hard days,” Hogan said. “Expectations for basketball at Seattle University will always be high.”

School administrators cited the years of success of basketball at Gonzaga as part of the inspiration for returning to Division I. Gonzaga officials say there has been a direct correlation between the school’s rising basketball fortunes and rising enrollment and donations.

“From the standpoint of what Division I has meant to the university (Seattle), the media visibility is high,” Hogan said. “The academic capabilities of our students across the board is higher. We’ve become more of a national school than a regional school.”

The Redhawks originally expressed interest in joining Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, a league that consists largely of small Catholic institutions like Seattle and Gonzaga.

Hogan plays down rumblings that Gonzaga did not want to give up its state monopoly on WCC residency – “I don’t know about that” – and he speaks well of the WAC.

“It’s a huge national brand,” Hogan said. “Everyone knows the WAC.

“You had 50 years of richly successful teams and individuals, so the WAC brand is really strong. Obviously, the football component is no longer here (the last season of WAC football was 2012), but we love to build the basketball.”

Building fan fervor for the WAC is not easy when Boise State, San Diego State and UNLV have been replaced by current members such as Missouri-Kansas City, Chicago State and Texas-Pan American.

Hogan downplays the lack of natural rivalries.

“It just takes time,” he said. “I think there will be great rivalries over time. It’s wonderful to be in a league. It’s wonderful to have an automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournaments (championships) in all our team sports.”

Umipig labeled the WAC “a great conference,” and Dollar said, “I’m proud to be part of it. You can see it growing and developing.”

Hogan boasts about the success of several Redhawks programs, most notably men’s and women’s soccer and women’s basketball. It is men’s basketball, however, that is designed to be the centerpiece of SU’s master plan for athletics. Dollar can only hope he doesn’t need to come up with a master plan for moving anytime soon.


YourThoughts

  • RadioGuy

    Dollar may be on the hot seat, but he’s not the biggest problem with SU basketball. The WAC of today is not even the WAC of 2010, and drawing under 2,200 at KeyArena shows that fans aren’t buying in to the product. I don’t think anyone at SU is pining to go back to D2 and playing home games at Connolly Center (a wholly inadequate facility), but this isn’t working.

    Going to the WCC and so many old rivalries plus a new one with Gonzaga would’ve been better than the present arrangement but it didn’t happen. On the other hand, when SU WAS in the WCC they rarely filled the Center Arena, which seated under 5,000 for basketball, so it’s not as if those were salad days under Jack Schalow, either.

    • jafabian

      Well said. Dollar is not the problem. Is there a problem? It’s going to be awhile before SU reaches the heights of its glory days. If anything, kids aren’t coming West anymore to play hoops. The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Big East are where it’s at right now to play ball. The WAC, Mountain West, West Coast and even the Pac 12 need to better compete with those conferences.

      • art thiel

        Well, Huskies did win Pac-12 regular-season title a year ago, and Arizona and San Diego State are managing. Tony Bennett did well at WSU.

        • Bayview Herb

          A rap against profiling dogs, I’m sure.

    • art thiel

      Tough spot. There’s some memorable history, but young people relate to action and shiny trophies, and SU isn’t making it happen in a sports market much busier than when they quit the first time. Even Huskies hoops is off 30 percent or more. But they don’t have to care because they get Pac-12 network money.

  • Bayview Herb

    If Seattle U would change their name back to the Chieftains the branding would reflect their glory years with the O’brien twins and above all, one of the greatest players ever, Elgin Baylor. If the school wanted to be politically correct, why get rid of a name like Chieftain which certainly isn’t pejorative toward Indians any more than the name Seattle is. (Chief Sealth)

    • art thiel

      Herb, that ship has sailed. Enough Native Americans don’t like being made mascots of a conquering people, so it seems reasonable to respect their wishes.

      • Bayview Herb

        In pre-civilized Europe, Chieftains were the tribal leaders of white races as well as Mongols and other groups. It’s about the least and non-toxic name for leaders and definitely isn’t limited to Indian Tribes. Perhaps the entire area should divest of Indian names. Gone would be Puyallup, Seattle, many others.

        • RadioGuy

          Very true. Being of Irish descent, I’ve studied the Celt culture enough to know that if you led a large family or group of people in Ireland waaaay back in the day, you were the chieftain of that clan. EWU had the right idea in replacing Savages with Eagles years ago but there is nothing insulting about being called a Chieftain (or Warrior or Brave, for that matter).

          And I will NEVER whine about Boston’s NBA team being called the Celtics, although I could do without that leprechaun logo…if you know anything about Celts, “cute” they were not.

          • Bayview Herb

            Ya well, I’m of an older generation that believes Political correctness has gone way too far. No people are inventing things to be pissed at.

          • art thiel

            You’re never too old to learn, Herb. Are you?

          • art thiel

            Radio, I’m guessing you’re not part of a conquered people whose relatively recent ancestors experienced genocide. If you were, you might feel differently. It’s an issue of power, and lack thereof.

          • RadioGuy

            Well, let’s see, Art…my ancestors had the Vikings overrun them in the 800′s…then there’s the continuing English occupation of more than 800 years featuring the same folks who brought us Oliver Cromwell and later stood idly by during the Great Famine. I’ve been on a CIE bus going through Enniskillen in County Fermanagh at noon on a Wednesday in 1988 and seeing only fully-armed British soldiers in the streets (and no civilians).

            I’m empathetic with the tribes, but they have no corner on the market of cultures that have been invaded, conquered and subjugated within their own land. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one because I’m not changing my position. History, for better or for worse, is all about conquerors and the conquered.

        • art thiel

          Using native names for places is neutral. Using a native image as a mascot is offensive to many Native Americans. I’m not brave enough to tell someone else how they should or shouldn’t feel about such an issue.