Most everyone knew Ernie Kent would be fired following this season. Unfortunately, it had to happen during the second half of the final Pac-10 game at historic Mac Court. At least they got the win though, right?
This was a move that had to happen. The program was basically stuck in neutral, waiting for its talented young players to blossom once they became seniors. Problem is, in college basketball these days, you can’t only win once every four years. (He only had four seasons where his teams finished conference play over .500).
With a brand new, state of the art $200 million stadium due to be unveiled at the start of 2011 Pac-10 season, Oregon needed a change. If Ernie couldn’t sell out the shoebox that is Mac Court, then, well, there would be a lot of empty seats at expansive (and expensive) Matt Court.
Although it certainly wasn’t a smooth ending, Kent should be greatly appreciated for his 13-years as the Ducks head coach, as the program has grown leaps and bounds under his leadership. (Although I could make the argument that the growth was almost completely connected to Nike’s sudden “interest” in the program).
According to KVAL’s initial report, athletic director Mike Bellotti fired Kent on Feb. 22, after home losses to Stanford and California. The TV station says the firing will take effect, when the Ducks wrap up the 2009-10 season, presumably after their “play-in” game to the Pac-10 tournament. KEZI reports Kent was fired earlier last week. KMTR says talks between Bellotti and Kent will continue through the Pac-10 tournament.
In addition, Kent’s entire staff will be replaced, with the possible exception of assistant Kenny Payne.
This is where it gets interesting, at least in regards to Kent’s replacement.
Payne has long been friends with ‘World Wide Wes’, who is often called the most powerful man in basketball because of his influence behind the scenes. Payne’s friendship helped create a recruiting pipeline in Detroit, bringing in Malik Hairston and Tajuan Porter.
Yesterday, SI’s Seth Davis wrote a story that William Wesley has agreed to be an agent, representing NBA and college coaches for Creative Artists Agency. Its client list includes Lebron James and John Calipari, among just about every others big name in sports.
Wesley has a special gift for befriending star players, including Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans. Both of those players coincidentally went on to play for his client.
I hope athletic director Mike Bellotti lets Payne stay on, and hire a client of CAA.
As for Oregon’s needs for its next basketball coach, the goal is clear: fill the seats. The Ducks couldn’t even fill The Pit tonight for its last conference game ever, and if you haven’t heard, the new stadium is a bit bigger.
Yes, the athletic department might be in the red right now, but the boosters won’t allow the basketball program to wallow in mediocrity. The Kent firing signifies this.
One donor in particularly might have an interest in Bellotti’s hiring process. (Here’s a hint who: he donated $100 million towards the new stadium).
If Phil Knight has already given that much, spending a few million more on a top coach is a must in order to make the most on his already weighty investment.
Although I don’t have a complete list of CAA coaching clients, I’m sure there are a few big names on there that could be attracted to Oregon for the right price.
Of course, filling the seats is not the only thing of interest. Winning is important as well, although it’d be nice to have a coach who can create interest in the program and sell tickets in and of himself.
My top quality: player development. That has been Kent’s biggest bugaboo. Kent would get talent, but very rarely would there be noticed improvement, thus, leading to his teams only being competitive when his star players were seniors (Luke, Luke and Fred; AB, Malik and Bryce).
Hopefully the new coach can teach Michael Dunigan what a “screen” is, and also run a half-court set that actually resembles a functional offense.
Is that too much to ask for?
(I will have another piece in the next day or two further discussing possible coaching replacements for Ernie Kent)
For now, here’s a quick list of possibilities: Mark Few, Steve Lavin (five sweet 16’s in 7 years at UCLA), Jeff Capel, Mark Turgeon, Tubby Smith, Terry Porter, Cameron Dollar and Randy Bennett.