With Washington State’s men’s basketball program turning in another season of performance on the court ranking them near the bottom of the Pac-12, voices are calling for a coaching change.
Ken Bone is near the completion of his fifth year in Pullman. Will it be his last?
The results of his teams has been mixed at best. Bone’s overall record as head coach of the Cougars stands at 70-66. But if you separate out the non-conference games over the past 5-seasons, WSU has a disappointing 26-46 mark in conference play.
When former WSU head coach Tony Bennett bolted to accept the job at Virginia the Cougar fan base was caught by surprise.
In Bennett’s three years leading Cougar hoops, his teams amassed an impressive record of 69-33 including two trips to the NCAA tournament and an NIT invitation. Inheriting a talented roster from the previous head coach, his father Dick Bennett , gave Tony a chance to make a name for himself as a young up-and-coming head coach.
There is a history at WSU of their head coaches using the job as a stepping stone to more prestigious opportunities.
Former WSU athletic director Jim Sterk sought to transition the university from that of a place to hone coaching skills then hit the ‘big time’ to one where candidates not only wanted the job, they wanted to be at Washington State.
Sterk set out to find a good fit for Pullman and held Ken Bone in such high regard, he signed him to a 7-year deal. Yes, the long term contract was intended to provide stability necessary to maintain and expand on the successful foundation built by both Dick and Tony Bennett.
Matching his personality, there was modest fanfare for the arrival of Ken Bone in Pullman. Bone is a good man on just about any level you care to measure. One thing he is not is flashy. Media coverage of the hiring process was tepid considering the context of the direction Cougar basketball seemed to be heading.
So how does a good coach find himself being bombarded on a daily basis by fans and media suggesting he isn’t the right man for the job?
It’s all about winning these days. Bone’s ball clubs are not winning ball games. It’s just that simple.
Many make the connection to winning and coaching ability inextricable. Those who scratch below the surface of a coach’s win/loss record find additional rationale to make a reasoned judgment as to whether or not someone is Pac-12 caliber or not.
Lacking the flamboyant style of former WSU coaches George Raveling and Kelvin Sampson, Ken Bone has always deferred to remaining somewhat stoic along the sidelines. An offended Raveling would jump so high at questionable calls by refs, his landing could be heard from miles away. Sampson went through a strip-tease-like disrobing process nearly every game he has ever served as a head coach. You will never confuse the demeanor of Ken Bone with either of those coaches. No question many fans believe such histrionics evoke success on the hardwood.
Set aside the assessment that Bone is the kind of man parents are comfortable entrusting the educational and basketball future of their sons with. There are mountains of stories supporting the character and credibility of Coach Bone.
For the second consecutive year, Ken Bone has entered the season without a proven point guard. That fact presents a massive coaching challenge when the head man has favored running a motion offense his entire coaching career.
Two years ago Bone dismissed his senior point guard for repeated off-court troubles just prior to the beginning of fall practice. This season Bone brought in one of the top JC point guards in the nation only to dismiss the young man for an off-court incident.
Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
With five regular season games and the Pac-12 tournament left on the WSU schedule, it’s difficult to postulate a scenario where Ken Bone returns for a sixth year. Few seem to be interested in applying the time and imagination to contrive a possibility.
Current Washington State athletic director Bill Moos isn’t going to fuel media speculation between now and the end of this basketball campaign. That isn’t his style or history.
Moos will concede he has a short list of candidates penciled on a scrap of paper somewhere, but that is what good athletic directors do. They don’t like being caught off-guard, as witnessed by the reaction of his predecessor Jim Sterk.
Clearly Ken Bone deserves a measure of dignity afforded by Moos remaining tight lipped.
Relying on history, Moos also doesn’t believe in ignoring the reality of just how apathetic the fan base for Cougar hoops has devolved into. Students would prefer to play video games in the student union building rather than walk 10-minutes to watch their team play.
Student attendance at games has plummeted to levels not seen in over a decade dating back to former WSU coach Paul Graham pacing the sidelines in Beasley Coliseum. Of the remaining season ticket holders, it appears more stay home to watch the game on Pac-12 Networks than journey to their seats surrounding Friel Court.
WSU will be on the hook for Bone’s $850,000 annual salary for two more years. But the odds are extremely long that you will catch Ken Bone coaching the Cougs.
In the case of Ken Bone coaching at Washington State, all indications are, good wasn’t good enough.