Hayford takes over at Seattle looking to find glory of past

New Seattle University NCAA college head basketball coach Jim Hayford gamely pulls on a school ball cap at an introduction event for him Thursday, March 30, 2017, in Seattle. Hayford was previously the head coach at Eastern Washington. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SEATTLE (AP) Jim Hayford built Whitworth into a powerhouse at the Division III level during his tenure. He turned Eastern Washington into a perennial contender in the Big Sky Conference in his first foray into Division I as a head coach.

When Seattle came about 10 days ago asking if he had any interest in the Redhawks opening, Hayford saw another opportunity to be a creator.

”I wanted a new challenge. I love building programs and I think a great foundation has been laid here,” Hayford said. ”I now want to partner my life and my energy … into bringing Seattle U to the NCAA Tournament.”

Hayford was introduced Thursday as the 17th coach in Seattle’s history, tasked with finding a way to get the Redhawks back into the NCAA Tournament.

Hayford replaced Cameron Dollar, who was fired earlier this month after eight seasons at Seattle during which he led the Redhawks through their transition to full Division I status. Dollar was unable to turn Seattle into a contender in the Western Athletic Conference.

Hayford was quick to credit Dollar for taking Seattle through its Division I transition but saw significant upside to the Redhawks’ opening despite taking over a program he defeated at Eastern Washington five of the previous six times they played.

”This isn’t a lateral move,” Hayford said. ”The upside and the future and what we can do at Seattle U in partnering in this great city with this great academic institution. It’s not looking at where things are at now. It’s looking at where things can be and that’s what drew me to this job.”

Seattle was once a powerhouse in Division I hoops. Until Gonzaga’s trip to the Final Four this season, the last team from the state of Washington to reach the Final Four was Seattle back in 1958. There is history and a legacy of success associated with the program that was not reached in the beginning stages of its return to Division I.

”We were looking for an experienced head coach who had developed a blueprint for our aspirations,” athletic director Shaney Fink said.

Hayford was 106-91 in his six seasons with the Eagles, including a pair of 20-win seasons. Hayford took Eastern Washington to the NCAA Tournament in 2015 for the second time in school history. Prior to going to Eastern Washington in 2011, Hayford spent 10 seasons as the head coach at Division III Whitworth, turning the Pirates into a powerhouse at the lower level.

”I want this challenge and I’m glad that they picked me,” Hayford said.