David Riley is a good hire for WSU

The process to get here stunk, but we ended up in a good place.

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As you might imagine, the coaching search has been the hot topic. We’ve been sharing the things we’ve been hearing with our Premium folks as we learn them — which now includes hoops’ portal prospects. Join us?

A long, strange trip

Had WSU announced a week ago that David Riley would be the school’s next men’s basketball coach, I would have been a bit bummed out and underwhelmed.

Today, I’m thrilled. We finally do have a coach, and I also think he’s a good one. Jaylen Wells and Isaiah Watts say they’re staying. Things are looking up!

Because context, of course, is everything.

It’s kind of hard to believe that Kyle Smith announced his departure for Stanford just nine days ago, and that it’s only been 11 days since the Cougs’ dream season closed with a valiant fight against Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

A week ago, optimism was still riding pretty high, even despite Pat Chun’s departure. There was still hope that the job might go to Smith’s associate head coach, Jim Shaw, and that he might be able to keep most of the team together for another run at the NCAA tournament next season.

That didn’t last long. There was no quick move to retain Shaw, and within a couple of days, we shared with our Premium members that we were hearing Shaw was out. One by one, WSU’s key players began entering the portal — seemingly further indication that their preferred candidate wasn’t going to get the job. Before the week was out, both Smith and Shaw had issued ham-fisted statements confirming what we all suspected.

More players hit the portal.

All signs pointed to Riley, Eastern Washington’s highly successful coach. Sources were convinced the job was his. But nothing was happening, and suddenly, on Thursday, we were hearing another name: Matt Logie at Montana State. There seemed to be something there, but also … things got real quiet over the weekend.

More players hit the portal.

With frustration and despair setting in among fans, everything finally came to a head on Monday, when CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander dropped this bomb:

This generated two types of outrage. First, why Logie — a coach with just one year of Division 1 head coaching experience? Second … could we actually be used as leverage for an extension at Montana State?

While we still don’t have an answer to the first question, the answer to the second question was indeed affirmative: Less than 24 hours after WSU’s reported offer, Logie indicated he was staying. Details were not revealed, but as we told our Premium Members yesterday, we believe he’s getting an average of $400,000 a year on a lengthy extension. We also believe WSU’s number was $600,000 a year, which would have represented a substantial raise for him, but also would have been far less than the $1.5 million Smith had been receiving.

What, exactly, was our school even doing here?

Still no coach. Publicly spurned for Montana Freaking State. Practically the entire roster in the portal.

Whatever good vibes remained from last season — again, not even over for two weeks! — had been summarily executed. Existential crisis mode: ENGAGE.

Things kicked into high gear with Riley, and about 12 hours after Logie said he was staying Bozeman, word started leaking that Riley would be the guy. The school announced it is a six-year deal , and the salary number we’re hearing is the same: $600,000 a year.

Nightmare mostly over.

Bad process, good result?

I was as guilty as anyone of downplaying the role that Chun’s departure would play in the hiring of the next coach, but I think the challenge of trying to make such a critical hire without an AD reared its head here: A president with his hands full, an interim AD not empowered to be decisive, and an inexperienced interview committee. Chun would have had the tools to move quickly. This group did not.

Based on things I’ve heard from people close to the situation, I have suspicions about what led the school to so quickly overlook Shaw — and they’re not flattering to WSU’s administration. Smith and Shaw’s statements rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but if you view the statements from Smith and Shaw in a little different light — that the process led them to believe that Shaw was never a serious candidate in the first place, never given a real opportunity to be considered — lines such as “I believe I earned the opportunity to be the head coach” take on a bit different meaning.

Shaw was such an obvious choice for all the reasons I laid out a week ago, and for anyone who would say that it’s stupid to make a choice based on keeping the roster together because everyone was going to leave anyway, I promise you: Sources near the players in the program insisted from the very beginning that a mass exodus was not a foregone conclusion if Shaw had been hired — and they maintain that belief today.

But still: If we wanted to be as charitable as possible to the process and stipulate that the folks doing the hiring had decided that Division I head coaching experience was a prerequisite for the job, fine — I didn’t (and don’t) agree, but I I’m just a dope who writes a newsletter and yells on a podcast. Reasonable minds could disagree on that. If they were moving on to Riley … shrug.

What I don’t think reasonable minds can agree on is that a logical extension of that philosophy includes offering the job to a guy with precisely one (1) year of Division 1 head coaching experience who had spent the previous twelve (12) years at the Division 2 level.

I wonder if someone might ask Kirk Schulz about that tomorrow, at Riley’s introductory news conference. Offering Logie just made no sense, really, on any level — particularly since there was so much smoke around Riley early in the process. What happened? We know that media leaks come from agents and not schools, but this one was even a little weird on that front — Norlander is the only CBB reporter who tweeted about Logie’s “offer” on Monday night. When Riley was getting close last night, multiple folks (Percy Allen, Rocco Miller, Jon Rothstein) tweeted it out within 10 minutes of each other. Same thing happened 90 minutes later when the deal was done.

This almost has the feel of agent shenanigans, since it appears that Riley and Logie share an agent. Did Riley hold the offer the whole time with his agent knowing he could use a well-placed leak to get a raise for his other client? Doesn’t seem crazy.

Either way, WSU ends up looking very dumb. They either offered the job to a guy who decided he’d rather stay in the Big Sky, or they got clowned by an agent. Not a great look for a university already struggling to project legitimacy in the wake of the collapse of the Pac-12, and not the sort of thing you’d expect to have happened with an AD in place.

In the end, though, I think we ended up in a good spot. We know that David Riley is a good Division 1 coach. He’s the back-to-back coach of the year in the Big Sky, winning the regular season title each of the past two seasons. Nothing is a sure thing, but if you’re going to play the midmajor lottery on a coach — for the salary we were apparently offering — Riley is as good of a bet as you can make.

You’ll remember that he’s been a thorn in our collective side for the last three seasons, beating us in 2022 and 2023. That led to this endorsement from a former WSU coach:

Now that is saying something.

What’s next?

Now the real work begins: Assembling a roster for next season. Right now, these players are in the portal (in order of percentage of minutes played this season):

  • Andrej Jakimovski

  • Myles Rice

  • Oscar Cluff

  • Kymany Houinsou

  • Rueben Chinyelu

  • Jabe Mullins

  • Joseph Yesufu

The only starter not in there is Wells, and the only other rotation player not in there is Watts. They each got on Instagram Live last night and said they were staying, which would be an incredible start to building a roster that can compete in the WCC next year. Wells is a star

The next big question would be whether any of the portal guys can be convinced to return. It’s a good sign that none of them have yet committed to another school, but as someone put it to me, “Once that genie is out, it’s hard to put it back in.” It’ll come down to three things:

  1. Comfort with their roles under the new coaching staff;

  2. The size of the bag WSU’s collectives can put in front of them;

  3. Other offers on the table, both in terms of program prestige and — of course — the bag.

The particular combination thereof depends on the player, and I won’t pretend to know what matters most to each of them. Heck, Riley might decide that some of these guys don’t fit what he wants to do and should move along anyway.

Riley’s coaching staff decisions will be fascinating in terms of what he prioritizes. Does he try and retain some of the Smith family? Assistants Wayne Hunter and Derrick Wrobel, along with director of player development Stephen Frankoski, are reportedly off to Stanford with Smith, so that leaves Shaw and Jeremy Harden behind. Would Shaw consider staying? I have a hard time imagining that, but I guess anything is possible. Harden surely would, but as a guy who came on board a year ago, I’m not sure he brings the relational value you’re probably looking for.

One name I’d be ecstatic to see in the mix is the guy who tweeted above. Everything that made John Andrzejek my No. 2 candidate for the head job a week ago applies to bringing him back to the staff as an assistant. Might he consider returning? It would have to be very appealing to get him back from Florida, but something like “associate head coach” might do it.

As for the dollars to the players? The Cougar Collective went hard after donations during the run up to the NCAA Tournament, and it seems like they collected a fair amount of money. Between them and CryptoCougs, I suspect there’s enough money to at least make guys think twice.

Simultaneously, you have to figure there are guys on Eastern’s roster that Riley would love to bring with him. Before you poo-poo Big Sky players, remember that Isaac Jones was one, and Riley used a bunch of “Big Sky players” to put together an offense that was No. 77 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. In Smith’s five years, only two of his offenses (the last two) ranked higher than that — this year, they were 66th. There is plenty of offensive talent there, led by Cedric Coward, one of the top players in the Big Sky. There are plenty of other options, too; don’t fret if it ends up being three or four guys. Wells plus Watts plus Coward plus a couple of other Eagles would be a pretty darn good start to a roster than can plant itself in the top tier of the WCC.

We’ll probably have some of these answers in the next few days, but it might take a few weeks for everything to shake out.

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