Back in April 2002 when Washington was looking for a men’s basketball head coach, former athletic director Barbara Hedges called Dan Monson (far right), who was still living off the glow of building Gonzaga, but was into a tough renovation project at Minnesota.
For a few hours, he took the job, but Gopher administrators talked him out of it and later he announced at a press conference that he was staying at Minnesota.
Lorenzo Romar was the beneficiary of that decision and the rest is history so to speak.
Romar became successful at UW while Monson resigned at Minnesota in 2006 and landed at Long Beach State where’s he’s coached the past four seasons.
Both coaches gave their perspectives on the Husky job search and talked about what could have been. Monson also opened up on leaving Gonzaga and the Husky-Zags series that’s been canceled.
(What do you like about Long Beach State?) “It’s a great fresh start. I really, really enjoy Long Beach because it has a lot of Gonzaga qualities. It’s a people place. It’s about coaching again. The best thing is they appreciate what you’re doing. I feel really fortunate. I was one of those Northwest people that always made fun of people jammed down in California and now I see why they do it. It’s a pretty great place to raise my family.”
(Did you envision Gonzaga becoming what it’s become?) “If I had that crystal ball, I’d still be coaching there. I tell people all the time, what we did when I was there was pretty special to make that run. But a lot of people have done special things. You think back. George Mason has done it. Butler did it. But to maintain it and sustain it for that long goes from special to incredible. What they’ve done since I’ve left there is incredible. And it’s a tribute to Mark and his staff, but also the administration there. They had the foresight to expand and increase the salaries to keep the people. To build the new buildings. To charter the planes. To put the resources in to keep it and sustain it and that’s what’s been incredible to me. I don’t ever regret leaving there because I’m not sure all of that would have happened if I would have stayed. I think me leaving made them make some decisions.”
(If Mark Few talks to you about leaving, what advice do you give him?)
“Mark and I have had that conversation 20 times and every time I told him the same thing. You’re crazy to leave. It’s a different job now than what I had. Again I don’t regret what I did. … He’s got everything there. When I left, there wasn’t an opportunity to win a national championship or do the things to sustain it. And like I said the school deserves a lot of credit for what they did and the resources they provided there and elevated them to a major program with facilities and resources. The school was the one that made that happen and Mark understands that and appreciates that and knows what a great situation he’s got.”
(You’re probably familiar with being the bad guy at Hec Ed.) “We were here four years ago. And I was here with Gonzaga. I’ve never been the good guy here. I was for a night maybe back in the day.”
(What has impressed you about Washington?) “I felt watching that Virginia game that they were – again it’s so early in the season, but you watch Michigan State and you watch these teams – I felt that was the best game I’d seen anybody play for an early season. Now does that mean they’re going to win a national championship? No. But I think if it would have been played that day, there was nobody that played better in the preseason than they did against Virginia. Even the Kentucky and Michigan State games proves that they are at an elite level because those games were one-possession games. … Nobody wins a national championship in November or December. They got to keep going, but he’s certainly got them on the right track.”
(“How do you beat Washington?) “We don’t have to play them for national championship. We don’t have to play them 20 times. We just need for tomorrow to hopefully hang in there. The biggest I told our guys is they have the ability to knock people out early. They’re like that heavyweight boxer that goes for the haymaker early. They really go on runs. And you have to be able to hang in there. Michigan State had 14 turnovers and were almost knocked out of that game in the first half. It was 12 or 14 – I forget the number – but it almost went to 18-20 and you can’t survive from that. But they’re Michigan State and they weathered that storm were able to come back and get back in the game in the second half. Our only chance in here with the environment, Michigan State didn’t have to do it in here. The environment and everything is just weather some storms. The one thing is we’re not deep right now. We got an injury on our sixth man and some things, but my five starters have all started for three years or so. We have a little bit of experience and these kids have gone on the road in their three years. They played at Duke, they played at Kentucky, they played at Syracuse, they played at Texas. They played in a lot of these kind of environments. So hopefully, if it gets out of hand tomorrow it will be because Washington did their thing and it won’t be because we came in here and got intimidated and afraid.”
(What do you think about UW and Gonzaga canceling its series?) “This is home and if I was a fan, which I am to the Northwest, I think it’s a great game. But am I an administrator or am I Lorenzo and Mark, I’m not in those positions so I don’t know the scheduling conflicts or whatever it is they have going. I don’t know all of that. But if I’m my dad and I’m 76 and I’m on the couch, I want to see those two teams play. What a great game. To see those two teams right now and where those programs are at, what a great game as a fan to watch. I think it’s too bad from that aspect, but I certainly being in the business and having to figure out schedules and having to figure out all the things, I certainly understand it.”
(Did you see Washington getting to this point back in 2002?) “If I had a crystal ball, I might have – when Barbara Hedges talked to me – it might have been a different conversation. He’s done a fabulous job here. I remember when Barbara and I were talking and at that point, Minnesota had one losing season in 15 years and this place had maybe three winning seasons (in 15 years.) Minnesota was averaging 13,000-15,000 people and they were averaging 3,000 people at that time I believe it was 2002. And in a quick period of time, he has turned this into a power basketball situation. He fits here so well. He played here. He’s got so many ties to the area and being able to keep the players here. They’ve just done a fantastic job. Right now I would say he’s separated himself from a lot of school in this league.”
(When you were at Gonzaga, could you see the potential in UW?) “It was always my dream to come to school here. I always thought a kid would be crazy not to (want to) because I was born and raised in the state of Washington. But when I looked at it from a Minnesota perspective, it didn’t have the tradition and it didn’t have maybe the support that it has right now. That didn’t happen just because of Lorenzo. I think the administration and everybody has really taken this program to another level. To get (Abdul) Gaddy to come here. To get Isaiah Thomas to come here. Those were kids that 15 years ago it wasn’t happening. They’ve really got this thing right now at an elite-level program.”
(What do you remember from when you were hired at Washington?) “Barbara Hedges had been talking to me and I never felt that she was really serious. I felt that I was an alum. I was currently coaching. A lot of people don’t know, after my first year as an (UCLA) assistant, the job opened up after coach (Bob) Bender was hired and she talked to me. I think coach (Jim) Harrick, my boss, asked her to give me an interview and she gave me a curtesy interview. Then the second tme when it was available, we talked. People tell me there were others that were ahead of me. I don’t know what happened, but I never felt that she was really serious until she called me and said … are you ready to be the new coach here at the University of Washington? And that was the first time I thought I really had a chance to be the coach.”
(Did you see the potential in the program?) “Here’s what I knew. I knew we had a renovated arena because we were at St. Louis and we played here and I remember getting lost walking around out here in the corridor. Even though I played here, it was just so new. Where is this? Where is our locker room? I don’t know what’s going on. I know where the court is, but I don’t know where is everything else. And I was really impressed with the renovations.
“When the job had became available, when I was first contacted I looked at the recruiting and the guys that they had signed. I remember it said Anthony Washington. They had Mike Jensen. And I was looking at their sizes, 6-10 and 6-8. No. 1 power forward on the West Coast. This guy named (Brandon) Roy that I heard about and read about, but I had not seen play. And people kept telling me about this guy that played football named (Nate) Robinson who was really good too, but just wasn’t ranked real high. Then I thought it was a pretty good recruiting class, but I also remember playing against Washington.
“I still remember playing here against Washington and the second year playing in St. Louis. Cameron Dollar had to scout (UW) and he called me in the office and he says ‘Hey, come here. This is not the same team we played last year.” Because then Errol Knight was here. Doug Wrenn was playing and they had a bunch of new guys in there. I take that back, Mike Jensen was already here. He was redshirting that year. But I remember reading up on him and thinking the roster is really young, but it has some potential.
“Jon Brockman was a freshman (in high school). Martell Webster, I think was a freshman, I looked down the road, if you can keep players home with what they already have, with the newly renovated arena, you got a chance to improve very quickly. That’s what I thought.”
(What did you tell Hedges and how quickly did things come together?) “I’m a little vague on that. I think I told her it was exciting or something and I’ll give her a call back. I always say that was the first time I realized I was in denial the whole time maybe for fear of being rejected. I don’t know. But that was the job that I had wanted all along, but I just thought aww I’ll never get that. They don’t want me over there. When she said that, it was like wow.”
(You heard there were other people ahead of you on the list?) “Yeah I heard that. She never told me that, but I heard that.”
(Did Monson tell you?) “(Laughter) No. I do know, I think Dan had kind of accepted the job, then turned it down.”
(Any lesson to be learned from Monson leaving Gonzaga?) “I don’t know. I think many people have been in that position. Some are pleased with their decision. Some aren’t. Dan did what he felt was right and in his best interest. He’s a heckuva coach. He’s really good. I know him. I talk to him. He’s a comedian and a good coach.”
(Monson said if he could do it over again, he’d stay at Gonzaga or take the UW job.) “Yeah, I could see that. It’s something. You look at the situation the way it was and Washington in that couple of years hadn’t done very well. Things just didn’t look good. It just seemed like there were a lot of issues. At that time when you look at it, maybe it wasn’t the best situation to just walk into. I didn’t care because that’s where I went to school.”
(Are there greener pastures for you?) “This is about as good as it gets to me.”