University of Oregon has announced the hire of women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves, who had an eminently successful 14-year run at Gonzaga. A few thoughts:
* Graves’ move is the sort that was expected for years by the Gonzaga men’s coach, Mark Few. In fact, Oregon wooed Few several years back when it hired Dana Altman, mainly through uber-booster Pat Kilkenny of San Diego.
* What might Graves be thinking? Perhaps the same thing that most outsiders have projected about Few: That he’s taken the Gonzaga women about as far as he can take them and needs a new challenge. Under Graves, the Zags have been in the top 20 in attendance nationally, pulling in 5,000-plus a game to the McCarthey Athletic Center. They’ve also been a fixture in the NCAA tournament with some worthy, deep runs often fueled by the home-court advantage. That said, they’re not among the elite programs in the women’s game, and it may be tough to get there at Gonzaga.
* Women’s basketball clearly isn’t the item at Oregon that it is at Gonzaga, so that calls into question the notion that Graves might have felt overshadowed by Few and Gonzaga’s men’s program. Still, it’s the same sport, and the Gonzaga men clearly rule in Spokane. I’m told that the crowds who attend GU women’s games is largely different from the men’s crowd, with very little student backing.
* Interesting that Oregon was able to lure Graves, three years after Washington was unable to do so. I don’t know whether that has anything to do with being a cross-state rival. But Graves and his wife have three sons and he’s very much a family guy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he perceived Eugene as simply more manageable than Seattle in terms of things like commute time and housing prices.
* Finally, it would be hard to find a better guy who’s a successful coach. If it doesn’t work for Graves at Oregon, it won’t be because of his people skills.