As expected, Washington State fired Ken Bone on Tuesday.
In a press release from the school, athletic director Bill Moos said: “Ken and I met earlier today. At that meeting I informed him I would be making a change in the direction of the program. I appreciate what Ken has done for Cougar Basketball, leading us to the postseason twice in the last four years, and I thanked him for his service to WSU.”
Bone, a former Washington assistant who had great success as head coach at Portland State and Seattle Pacific, was hired in April, 2009. He had two years remaining on his original seven-year contract that paid him $850,000 annually. The school owes him $1.7 million.
Bone compiled an 80-86 record, including a 29-61 mark in the Pac-12.
He inherited a team that made two NCAA tournament and one National Invitation Tournament appearances in three years under Tony Bennett. The Cougars were seemingly flush with young talent.
They flirted with a NCAA tournament berth in 2010-11 and finished 22-13 and 9-9 Pac-12. It was Bone’s best record at WSU and its sixth-place finish in the conference was the highest during his tenure. The Cougars advanced to the NIT seminal appearance, which was the high-water mark for Bone.
In the three following seasons, the Cougars had gotten progressively worse. In 2011-12 they were 19-18. In 2012-13, they were 13-19. And this season they were 10-21 and 11th in the Pac-12 at 3-15.
Making matters worse, fan apathy settled in.
Washington State drew 5,200 total for its final two home games, including the Senior Day win over UCLA. The average attendance at Beasley Coliseum this season was 2,800, which is a significant drop from the 7,323 WSU averaged in Bone’s first year. It was also the lowest average attendance since the Cougars averaged just under 2,300 in 2001-02.
“At this point we need to revitalize our fan base, particularly our student body, and position this program to compete for championships,” Moos said.
Bone seemed like a natural fit at Washington State five years ago. He led Portland State to back-to-back NCAA tournament berths in 2008 and ’09. He had knowledge about the conference having been an assistant at UW (2002-05). And the Seattle native who compiled a 253-97 record during a 12-year stint (1990-2002) at Seattle Pacific was familiar with recruiting in the state and the Northwest.
However, Bone’s downfall stems from a failure to build a system that could win in Pullman, which often struggles to attract high-level talent. He did a great job creating dynamic scorers such as Klay Thompson, Brock Motum and DaVonte Lacy. However, it was a flawed approach that wasn’t conducive to extended success.
It’s inexcusable Bone was unable to find a capable point guard the past two seasons. Reggie Moore was dismissed before the 2012-13 season, which made Royce Woolridge the primary ball-handler and playmaker even though he’s more suited as shooting guard. The Cougars hoped junior-college transfer Danny Lawhorn would take over the duties this season. However, he was suspended during the offseason and left the team before the season.
Bone is the first coach fired this year in the Pac-12.
“We will begin the process of naming the next head coach immediately,” Moos said. “I will not be discussing details of the hiring process, only that I expect to name the new coach as soon as possible.”
There’s plenty of speculation Moos will consider former Oregon coach Ernie Kent, Montana’s Wayne Tinkle and Boise State’s Leon Rice.