Athletic director Bill Moos once hired Ernie Kent to turn Oregon around. He has now done the same at Washington State.
Kent was hired Monday as the Cougars’ new men’s basketball coach, giving him another shot at leading a Pac-12 Conference program four years after he was let go by Oregon. Kent’s mission is significant: try to revitalize a program that has gone downhill in the past five seasons, both in terms of record on the court and interest in the stands.
"When WSU is having success, Beasley Coliseum is one of the best environments in the West," Kent said in a release from the school. "The students are so passionate, I saw 5,000 of them out there ready to go during warm-ups, one of the few places I’ve ever witnessed that. When you’ve seen that arena full and the program was at its best and now you have the opportunity to lead that program and you understand the potential that exists, that is very special to me."
Kent agreed to a five-year contract to leave behind his current job as an analyst for the Pac-12 Networks and re-enter the coaching ranks. He’ll be introduced at a press conference on the Washington State campus on Wednesday. The hiring may not bring the headlines Washington State got when Moos hired Mike Leach as his football coach, but Kent understands the situation he’s inheriting.
Kent replaces Ken Bone, who was fired on March 18 after five seasons during which the Cougars were unable to match the success they had under his predecessor, Tony Bennett. Bone was 80-86 at Washington State and just 29-61 in the Pac-12, never making the NCAA tournament.
But while the record was glaring, the empty seats in the arena stood out even more to Moos. The Cougars averaged less than 3,000 fans per game at home this past season as apathy overtook the program. Kent’s job is to re-engage those fans who have given up on the Cougars.
Moos saw firsthand at Oregon that Kent could create the kind of buzz and excitement he wants for the Cougars. Moos hired Kent in 1997 to take over the Ducks program after six seasons at Saint Mary’s that included a trip to the NCAA tourney in Kent’s final year.
During 13 seasons at Oregon, his alma mater, Kent took the Ducks to five NCAA tournaments, including two trips to the Elite Eight. He’s the winningest coach in Oregon history, going 235-173 during his time there.
Under Kent, the Ducks were fast and exciting. He was able to recruit some of the top players in the country to Eugene, including Luke Jackson, Aaron Brooks, Luke Ridnour and Malik Hairston. When announcing Bone’s firing earlier this month, Moos was asked about his former coach at Oregon and he cited Kent’s ability to produce a winner in a place like Eugene as a trait he would want in his next coach.
"Ernie has proven during our time together at Oregon that he can do all the things I’m talking about," Moos said on March 18.
Turned out that Moos sought more than just counsel from Kent during the hiring process.
"I am excited that Ernie will be the leader of our men’s basketball program," Moos said in a statement. "I have witnessed firsthand his many talents. He has proven that he can win championships in our conference. Together we saw tremendous success at his alma mater and I have every reason to expect to see the same at mine."
Washington State did pursue Boise State coach Leon Rice, a Cougar alum. Rice eventually decided over the weekend to remain at Boise State after agreeing to a new contract with the Broncos that increased his salary to $596,573 for the 2015 season with increases in the future. It was unclear what Washington State was offering as a salary, but the buyout on the final two years of Bone’s contract paid him $1.7 million.