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May 30, 2013 at 10:06 AM

Catching up with former Washington coach Kevin McGuff

McGuffOSU2

OSU coach Kevin McGuff
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Former Washington coach Kevin McGuff is still in Seattle, technically. He may have accepted a similar position at Ohio State in April, jetting to the school and quickly donning a Buckeyes tie for a press conference about the hiring, but trucking his family of six kids isn’t that simple. McGuff returns to his Bellevue home for family-time while he works out moving logistics with his wife, Letitia. McGuff even made time to take his oldest daughters to a Storm exhibition game to watch Tulsa rookie Skylar Diggins, a grad at Notre Dame where McGuff and his wife once coached.

In a recent conversation, however, McGuff said he’s is steering clear of his former Montlake territory. If it weren’t for UW athletic director Scott Woodward and senior associate AD Shondell Reed’s successful stopgap hiring of former assistant Mike Neighbors three-days after McGuff’s departure, the former coach could be persona non grata around UW. Neighbors, 44, signed a five-year, $1.9 million contract.

McGuff was hired in April 2011 to replace Tia Jackson. The latter compiled a Washington-low in four consecutive losing seasons (45-75) and couldn’t land talented in-state athletes. McGuff overhauled the program in two years with back-to-back 20-win seasons, two berths to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament and signing All-American Katie Collier (Seattle Christian HS) while helping PG Jazmine Davis become the Pac-12′s freshman of the year in 2012.

In March, Woodward singed McGuff to a contract extension through 2020 after the success. Twenty-two days later, McGuff left for OSU.

McGuff was raised in Ohio, growing up just north of Cincinnati in Hamilton. His wife is a native Michigander. Their families still live in the area, including both of McGuff’s parents and three of his four older siblings, so the move is understandable. But considering the OSU position was open March 11, before McGuff signed the UW extension, and the gaudy financial figures offered,  the move also smacks of posturing. McGuff’s now on the pay-scale level of Geno Auriemma, Kim Mulkey and former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who’ve all won NCAA titles.

According to reports, McGuff will make $850,000 annually at OSU, as well as a $700,000 signing bonus and $500,000 in retention payments if he remains through the 2020-21 season. If the Buckeyes win the Big Ten regular-season title, McGuff will receive a $20,000 bonus and a year added to his agreement. A conference tourney title brings $40,000 and an extra year.

In terms of a postseason, McGuff will make $40,000 for advancing to the NCAA tournament. If the team makes it to the Final Four, McGuff could make an additional $20,000, and $100,000 if the Buckeyes win the NCAA title. And the list goes on, money piling up so high Woodward flatly stated UW is highly unlikely to ever pay a women’s basketball coach that type of money.

Here McGuff, 43, talks about his decision, Neighbors, and recruiting. Neighbors was able to retain UW’s current roster and a recruiting class ranked 11th nationally by ESPN. OSU didn’t have any in-coming freshman when Hall of Fame coach Jim Foster was fired in March.

Q: Did the pull to return home weight heavily in your decision?

McGuff: It was. I enjoyed my time at Washington and the people were great. There’s a lot of really special things about it. The opportunity to comeback to be home and be around family was really big. And for a kid that grew up in Ohio, also the opportunity professionally to be a coach at Ohio State is also very significant.

Q: Did you ever think about just attending Ohio State instead of playing ball at Saint Joseph College in Indiana?: Yeah, it’s hard to describe. When you grow up in Ohio, Ohio State is always a really, really big deal. You either wanted to go or you had a lot of friends that went and had a wonderful experience. It’s just a really big thing.

Q: My family is from Michigan, so I know about the OSU following.

McGuff: I’m not even sure I’m allowed to talk about them.

Q: What about the timeline of your hiring, why sign an extension only to leave for a job that was previously open?

McGuff: Yeah, when the job was open, I was happy here (Washington) and things were going well, so I had no problem agreeing to the extension. I didn’t feel it would be right to pursue it (OSU). But then when it came back around, certainly the timing wasn’t ideal, but they kind of reached out to me and contacted me. When my wife and I sat down and talked about it, we certainly felt this was a move wanted and needed to make both personally and professionally.

Q: Was it difficult to renegotiate with Woodward?

McGuff: Yeah, it was. The hardest thing was the players. As adults, we can deal with it on an adult level. We’re professionals and we’ve been in this business long enough that we know these things happen and everyone was really professional from Scott all the way down the administration. The hardest thing was the players. They’re great kids in the program. I certainly as the head coach asked a lot of them over the last couple of years and they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do. It’s been really fun to see them make great progress. So, the most difficult part was letting them know that I was moving on to another job.

 Q: Were you able to discuss the decision with the team as a group before the news broke?

McGuff: I wanted to do it a little bit earlier than actually I was able to, but they were all in class and obviously I didn’t want to take them out of class because that’s very important at Washington. Some of them knew before we had the meeting but we were able to get most of them together that afternoon. It was hard. Like I said, it was really They’re really good kids and I’m excited about their future. I think they are going to do great.

Q: What was the message considering?

McGuff: My message to them was to let them know how much I care about them and appreciated everything they’ve done during my time here. I looked to put them at ease and for them to have great confidence in the administration to do the right thing and get a great coach. I think the administration was smart for moving quickly and hiring Mike. He’s going to do an awesome job. It kind of just helps to keep the momentum we built going.

Q: Any contact with the players since?

McGuff: I haven’t. It’s hard to do. I kind of wanted to have a little bit of a departure there, especially with Mike getting the job to allow him the time and room to really start to put is his own plan on things. Part of that is just a different relationship with the players. I’ve had a couple of parents reach out to me. We texted back and forth, thanking them for their support and so forth. A couple of players did reach out since I had that meeting and it was very brief. For the most part, I’m really kind of staying off of that letting Mike and his staff go from there.

Q: It’s said Mike played a key role in landing the talented 2013-14 recruiting class, is that true?

McGuff: Yeah, Mike had a really great influence on the program while I was there. He’s very talented and a hard worker so I had him heavily invested in all areas of the program. He was really, really good with the basketball stuff on the court, helping the players develop, scouting, coaching day-to-day. He’s got a great personality, so with recruiting, when we brought kids on campus with parents, he did a great job connecting with them also.

Q: Did you suggest Mike as a replacement?

McGuff: Scott and Shondell and everybody, they know what they’re doing. I didn’t have a whole lot of discussion with them, but I thought he’d be the best pick. It was the right move for Washington and I think it’s going to work out really well.

Q: When you and Mike were hired from Xavier, y’all mentioned a five-year plan to get UW to the NCAA tournament. Do you think the program remains on that track despite your departure?

McGuff: Right. Everything is in place for them to take another step next year. They’ll do that. You have a lot of talent coming back. You have a lot of talent coming in. This is going to be the most talented team they’ve seen  in a long time. I think he’s the right coach and he’s got the right path to take another step next year.

Q: What’s Mike’s personality like?

McGuff: He’s a really fun guy, great to be around. Fun person. I think he will relate to team as a head coach. It will be a smooth transition. He’s a really, really hard worker and high-character person. He’s going to do great.

Q: Any tales from your first arrival at UW?

McGuff: Not really. It was more get here and hit the ground running. There was so much to do and we were so busy, there wasn’t much time for interesting stories. It hasn’t been a long time, but it seems like it’s been a blur. It feels like we just got here (UW) yesterday.

Q: So, how did you get that OSU tie for the press conference so fast?

McGuff: Miechelle Willis, executive associate athletic director here. She’s really sharp and she got that for me.

Q: I’m guessing you were happy to wear it.

McGuff: Yep. Very happy to do that.

Q: How has the transition been at OSU?

McGuff: We’re on a semester system out there, so our players just got done with school so we really didn’t have any time to work with them this spring. The most important thing is I’ve been trying to get up to speed with them at little bit more. Who they are as people and find out a little bit of what their goals are and want to accomplish here next season.

Q: The recruiting class isn’t deep?

McGuff: Not deep, there are none. It is what it is. Certainly we’d like to have a few more young people but at the same time, I think it’s a great opportunity with more scholarships for the next couple of years to kind of reshape the roster a little bit. I don’t look at it like as scary. That’s what it was when I arrived. I’ll just make it work.

Q: When you think your family will officially relocate?

McGuff: We still have a whole bunch of details to work through. It will take awhile until we get all of that figured out. Leks, (newborn son) he’s doing good.

Comments | More in Washington | Topics: Kevin McGuff, Mike Neighbors

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