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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

March 23, 2014 at 6:08 PM

WSU coaching plot thickens; is Kent still on the radar?

Various reports have Washington State athletic director Bill Moos closing in on a candidate to replace Ken Bone as basketball coach.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review tweeted that Moos has a choice in mind and is in negotiations.

It’s possible he’s already targeted somebody like Boise State’s Leon Rice, a 1986 alum of WSU. Pluses for Rice would be a major salary bump to the $1-million-plus neighborhood, and the fact it brings him closer to Spokane, where he was a Gonzaga assistant and has a lot of ties. His family is very close to that of Zags coach Mark Few. They get together in Spokane and Boise, and as unlikely as it might seem, that would be a pull for him.

But Rice would also be intimately familiar with how difficult the WSU job is, and that it could be a career-killer.¬†How Rice would sort out those dynamics is anybody’s guess.

Meanwhile, I’m told reliably that Moos and ex-Oregon coach Ernie Kent haven’t talked since Bone was fired five days ago, so that would seem to scotch the idea of his candidacy.

Or would it?

Moos and Kent worked well together at Oregon and there’s a mutual respect. In fact, I’m told when Kent’s tenure became fragile at Oregon, Moos was one of the last guys in his corner. Moos liked him because he recruited well, saw to it that kids graduated, and — not least — he won. As Moos noted the day of Bone’s firing, Kent recruited to a “rathole” in McArthur Court, and amazingly, took the Ducks to two Elite Eights.

What happened at Oregon for Kent could also be part of the appeal for Kent in Pullman. It had to be a jolt for him to get cashiered by the Ducks, his alma mater, and the belief is that Kent may have a glint in his eye about proving he can coach, if it’s the right spot. And the right spot, WSU’s limitations notwithstanding, might be working for a guy he knows well and trusts.

What about the apparent absence of conversation between Moos and Kent? There are various factors that could explain that. One is that Moos inevitably does a lot of groundwork before he even makes the decision to fire. So he may have a pretty good feel for whether Kent is interested.

Second, and this shouldn’t be underestimated, Moos has been dealing with the recent death of his father Don, former Washington State legislator and at various times, state Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Ecology. There was a memorial to Don Moos only a day ago. So if Moos’ mind has been on other things, it seems to make sense that he could be gravitating to the person he knows the most about.

Finally, Moos appears to be somewhat limited in his pursuit of a “name” coach here. No doubt he’d love to introduce the basketball equivalent of Mike Leach, but that doesn’t look to be realistic. The money isn’t there, and I don’t think the WSU basketball vacancy is quite as alluring as Leach found the one in football. Moos has indicated he probably will come up with a million-dollar-contract for Bone’s successor, but I wouldn’t expect it to be a lot more than that annually. For a comparison, Auburn just lured Bruce Pearl away from ESPN for a couple of million a year. That’s a “name” coach, but one whose salary likely would have put him out of WSU’s reach.

And if Moos is indeed in negotiations, it may be merely a matter of behind-the-scenes figuring out what he can offer Kent. Fortunately for Moos, Kent, having brought many teams to Pullman, already knows well what the layout is about. So I don’t guess there would be a lot of “negotiating” between the two sides. Ostensibly, it’s more about Kent’s interest. He could give Moos a flat “no,” but I think he’d know pretty well what all this is about even before they talk. I don’t see a lot of back-and-forth involved.

Lots of speculation here. Sure, Moos could have hit upon somebody else. But until further notice, I think Kent remains a live possibility.

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