BY Howie Stalwick 05:44PM 03/18/2014

Leon Rice, ex-Gonzaga aide, eyed by Cougars

WSU and former Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice, now at Boise State, leads the early speculation to succeed Ken Bone, fired Tuesday by AD Bill Moos.

Five years was enough for Washington State with basketball coach and Seattle native Ken Bone. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Ken Bone was fired Tuesday as basketball coach at Washington State. In related news, Christmas falls on Dec. 25. Thanksgiving is set for the last Thursday in November. And Gonzaga will make a quick exit from the NCAA tournament.

WSU basketball fans only wish they could be fortunate enough to watch their beloved Cougars lose in the NCAA tournament. Lord knows the Cougars have lost just about everywhere else under Bone.

Bone’s .482 winning percentage (80-86) in five years at WSU is far from the worst mark posted by a Cougars basketball coach. How can we forget, no matter how hard we try, the illustrious Paul Graham (31-79, .282)? That said, few coaches anywhere have managed to lose as many games and fans as Bone did, the past two years in particular.

The student section at Beasley Coliseum, once the most intimidating in the Pac-8/10/12, is now as large and lively as your average Bible study class. Perhaps that is the way Bone preferred it, since he is a devout Christian who forbids his players from cursing at practices and games.

Admirable? Perhaps. Reasonable? Perhaps not.

Washington State’s average home attendance this season was 2,800. Officially. The fact that so round a number was released for public view is your first hint that nowhere near that many people actually rested their butts in seats to watch the Cougars play.

“It hurt all of us that are involved in the program to go into that building of ours and see it empty and the effect that had on our players,” athletic director Bill Moos said.

Paying customers had good reason to avoid Beasley of late. This season’s Cougars could not shoot, defend, rebound, dribble, pass, jump or run very well. Other than that, it’s difficult to pinpoint why the Cougars finished 10-21 overall and 3-15 in the Pac-12.

Or why they lost 60-25 – 60-25! — to an Arizona team that did everything but suit up vendors to hold the score down.

Or why they lost in the opening round of the Pac-10/12 Tournament for the fifth straight year, leaving Bone with the worst record in tournament history.

Moos had no choice but to fire Bone. This rings true despite the two years and $1.7 million left on the preposterous contract that former AD Jim Sterk handed Bone after he led Portland State to the first NCAA tournaments in school history during his final two years in the Rose City.

Never mind that Bone’s program was such an academic disaster area that the NCAA slammed the Vikings with so many sanctions that the program has yet to recover.

Never mind that Portland State was Bone’s first Division I head coaching job.

Never mind that the Big Sky Conference is, well, the Big Sky Conference.

Recruiting in the Pac-12 is a world apart from recruiting in the Big Sky. Moos, as with most of the free world, was underwhelmed by the recruiting efforts of Bone and his staff. The Cougars did sign all-state point guard Tramaine Isabell from Seattle’s Garfield High to a letter of intent over the winter, but Isabell now says he’s wobbling on whether to come to Pullman. The same with WSU’s other signed recruit, junior college forward Jermaine Morgan.

Bone said he has not ruled out replacing Bone with an assistant coach, but he is currently looking only at head coaches “who can recruit and who can sell Washington State and the community of Pullman to prospects. Someone who has flash, who has a passion for Washington State and who can recruit.

“I keep going back to recruiting.”

WSU graduate Leon Rice, a Richland native, has gained a reputation as a big-time recruiter when he was an assistant coach at Gonzaga and as the current head coach at Boise State. Moos refused to identify any coaches on his “short list” of candidates, but he offered high praise for Rice, who has not returned repeated phone messages.

“Leon Rice is doing a great job at Boise State,” Moos said. “I know that Leon is an alum.

“He’s going to get some looks (from schools seeking a new coach), and he deserves that. He’s done a nice job at Boise State, and I really think he was a big part of the success at Gonzaga.

“I’m not going to go any further than that.”

Moos said he will recommend that “one or two” current assistant coaches be retained, but the final hiring decisions will be made by the new head coach. Moos said he recommended three of Paul Wulff’s assistant football coaches to Mike Leach, but Leach brought in an entirely new staff.

Moos, noting that Pac-12 schools “by and large” pay head basketball coaches seven figures a year, said he’s willing to pay a competitive salary. Moos said WSU’s facilities are sufficient to good, and that plenty of charter flights or direct flights out of Pullman ease the travel burden from the Pac-12’s smallest and most isolated city.

Moos said he hopes to hire a coach before the NCAA tournament is completed. Asked if any candidates are coaching in post-season tournaments, Moos replied, “Uh, could be.”

Bone’s failure at WSU is one reason why Randy Rahe, the highly successful coach of perennial Big Sky powerhouse Weber State, probably has no shot at the Cougars job.

Mind you, predicting Moos’ next hire is akin to skating on thin ice with C.C. Sabathia on your back. Moos is highly respected nationally and has contacts anywhere and everywhere. He stunned the college football world when he hired Leach.

The names of two former coaches who enjoyed considerable success in the Pac-10/12, Ben Howland from UCLA and Ernie Kent from Oregon (where he worked for Moos), have circulated around Pullman for some time. Moos said he plans to consult with both men regarding possible coaching candidates, but indicated neither man is a likely candidate for the WSU job.

Which brings us back to Rice, whose Boise State teams have won 21 games each of the past two seasons. Bone’s WSU teams won 23 games the past two seasons combined.

You do the math. Moos did. That’s why Bone flunked out of WSU on Tuesday.


  • bobscrat

    In the immortal words of Jean Paul Sartre, ‘Au revoir, gopher’

    • art thiel

      Didn’t know JP was a Cougs fan.

  • jafabian

    Can’t argue with Rice. He’s familiar with the area and recruiting. Presumably he’d be less likely to bolt a la Tony Bennett. I’d love to see Cliff Ellis of Coastal Carolina get an interview but he had a messy exit at Auburn that might be remembered. Same with former Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury.

    • art thiel

      Leach out-messyed them all at Texas Tech. Holy men need not apply in Pullman.

  • D.J.

    Can’t put all of the blame game all on Coach Bone’s back, have to look further up the food chain, i.e. NBA, CBA, Euro leagues, etc. With “students” not staying their full 4yrs how in the world can any middle of the pack college program continue to have success, just look at the bottom half of the PAC-12. Coach Bone wasn’t given enough of a chance to rebuild, 5yrs? Come on.

    One way to get kids back into supporting their sports team is changing the “loyalty” environment. Support YOUR SCHOOL team, regardless of the win/loss record, sadly that’s not an option in the money machine that college “sports” has become.

    WSU doesn’t have enough pulling power to get a top notch coach there, just look at the football team’s checkered history. Really think the answer is to try some ex-Zag’s aide?? Move to the WAC, WSU, they are calling….

    • art thiel

      Cougs managed to get to two NCAAs with Tony Bennett, had three 10-win football seasons in a row under Mike Price. The right coach isn’t everything, but it is a lot. As far as college sports in general, it’s the most corrupt national institution we have outside of the Pentagon. But the rules are the same for all schools.