With the firing of Craig Robinson, Bob De Carolis and the Oregon State athletic department begin their search to find a head coach for the 2014 men’s basketball season. For many in Beaver Nation, its deja vu all over again.
In 2008, Oregon State was in an all too familiar situation. An uninspired, hard to watch brand of basketball that stumbled to a 6-25 finish with no conference wins.
Jay John had been ousted, and the fans were relieved. Years of average, pedantic play left fans bitter and ready for change. Enter, the “audacity of hoop” and Craig Robinson’s Princeton offense. Six years later, it all looks very similar.
While John and Robinson both underwhelmed in the face of high program expectations, the two did have their moments while pacing the sidelines at Gill Coliseum, and we would be benighted to think that either coach was a complete failure.
Jay John took over the Beaver program in 2002, and lead the Beavers to their best finish in over a decade at the time, tied for 6th. Much like Robinson, John broke .500 once, in 2004-05 when the team made it to it’s first NIT tournament since 1987.
The team dropped the opener against Cal State Fullerton, but the air about Gill Coliseum was electric, given the fact that it was the Beavers first winning season in 15 years.
The Beavers would never return to the same level while under Coach John. Dipping slowly in the next few years to 13, then 11, then just 6 wins, John was fired by De Carolis on January 20th, 2008. Craig Robinson was hired two months later.
Robinson lead Oregon State to it’s first post-season championship in program history, and while it was just the 2009 CBI tournament title, it was a fantastic run to watch and the excitement around Beaver basketball at the time was noticeably different than it had been in years passed.
This brings us to the present. The top five scorers from last year’s team have departed for either the NBA or greener pastures in the NCAA. The disillusioned flock seeks it’s next shepherd to lead the way into what will hopefully be brighter days.
The most talked about candidate to emerge in the coaching search so far has been former UCLA coach Ben Howland. Howland, a Lebanon, Ore. native, is among a short list of coaches who have taken three different schools to the NCAA Tournament (UCLA, Pittsburgh, and Northern Arizona) and one of only three coaches to have competed in three straight Final Fours (2006-2008, UCLA), the other two being Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski.
Howland has a proven track record of turning programs around. He lead Northern Arizona to their first NCAA tournament appearance in school history, before leaving for Pitt. The University of Pittsburgh Panthers earned their first Big East title under Howland in 2003, along with three post season bids in four years.
UCLA hired Howland in 2003, brought in to rejuvenate a storied program that had posted it’s first losing season in five decades.
He rose to the challenge again, leading the Bruins to three straight Final Four appearances, that began with the Bruins finishing second in 2005-06, losing to Billy Donovan, Joakim Noah, and the Florida Gators.
In 10 seasons, Howland lead the Bruins to 7 NCAA Tournament appearances, a 233-107 overall record, and two conference tournament titles.
With proven experience, a winning way, and a local tie to the area and the school, it’s not hard to imagine Ben Howland calling the shots from the first chair at Gill Coliseum.
Marvin Menzies of New Mexico State is another name being thrown around in relation to the job. Menzies took over the head coaching spot at New Mexico State in 2007 and has since led the Aggies to four conference championships, four NCAA tournament appearances, and a 159-89 record.
His team’s 2011-12 run to the second round of Match Madness was the school’s first win in the opening round of the big dance since 1992.
I’ve always been the fan of the WAC and thought it to be an oft underrated and overlooked group, but unfortunately, the conference is falling victim to the football fueled reorganization movement that is sweeping the NCAA.
Eleven schools have ditched the WAC in favor of conference realignment since 2011. It would make sense that a talented coach like Menzies would make the leap to a bigger school while he has the opportunity.
Lastly, Lester Connor, a former Oregon State point guard under the legendary Ralph Miller, is a bit of a wild card candidate for the job. Connor played for the 1980-1981 team that spent most of the year at #1, before losing in the second round of the 1981 NCAA Tournament to Kansas State.
In 1982, Connor won the Pac-10 player of the year award and was drafted by the Golden State Warriors fourteenth overall. He spent the next fifteen seasons bouncing around from team to team.
Conner began coaching in 1998 as an assistant to Rick Pitino for the Boston Celtics. He also worked as an assistant under current Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts while in Milwaukee. Since leaving the Bucks in 2007 after Stotts was fired, Connor has spent time coaching in Indiana, Atlanta, and Denver.
Connor brings a truckload of NBA playing and coaching experience. Coupled with his status as a Beaver alumni during the highest apex in program history, Connor may just have the extra edge to really understand what Beaver Nation expects from it’s basketball program.
That said, he’s also never ran a college program before, and it would be very ambitious to make Oregon State his first endeavor into that territory.
While many Beaver fans still worry about how long the program will retain it’s status as the “dumpster fire” of the conference, it’s refreshing to know that their is a short list of potential candidates who all bring their own distinct pallet of traits to the table.
Blue skies are on the horizon in Beaver Nation.