Washington coach Mike Neighbors said he received plenty of text messages and phone calls immediately after Arkansas coach Tom Collen was fired on Friday. An Arkansas native, Neighbors said he hasn’t been contacted about the position despite his obvious connections to the school.
When Neighbors was asked prior to practice Wednesday if he’d be interested he said, “No, no. It’s my dream job and everybody knows that.”
His Washington team is expecting a bid to play in the Women’s NIT when selections are made Monday.
Collen was hired in 2007 and left with a 132-90 overall record with one appearance in the NCAA tournament and four WNIT bids. Arkansas finished nonconference play at 13-0 this season but finished Southeastern Conference play at 6-10, losing in the opening round of the SEC tournament. The team has six freshmen and two sophomores.
Neighbors, who’s unmarried, has a daughter who’ll attend the school in the fall and a son in his home state. Neighbors’ longtime girlfriend lives in Kentucky. But due to his profession, Neighbors normally can only visit during Christmas. As a first-year head coach, however, he did have his staff conduct a practice toward the end of the season to surprise his daughter at her cheer event.
“I grew up a Razorback. That doesn’t mean I have an interest,” Neighbors of leaving. Neighbors was a director of basketball operations for Arkansas from 1999-2001 and returned as an assistant coach for the 2006-07 season.
“I don’t think about it,” he continued. “I’ve always been at the right place at the right time and this would not be, maybe, keeping in line with that. I’ve been here one year and the timing might not be such…I don’t think about it until it becomes an option and nobody has called me about it.”
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said he would conduct a nationwide search. Typically those interviews happen at the Final Four to evaluate all possible candidates at the conclusion of their respective seasons.
UW lost in the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament last week. Recent tournament predictions have the conference advancing five teams to the NCAA tournament. USC won the Pac-12 tournament championship and automatic NCAA bid. No. 6 Stanford, No. 24 California, Oregon State and Arizona State are expected to be the other teams to advance.
The Pac-12 receives one automatic bid to the WNIT and Washington would be the recipient based on finishing sixth in regular-season conference standings. The kink would be if ASU, which lost six of its final eight games, isn’t selected for the NCAA tournament. The automatic WNIT bid would then go to the Sun Devils and the Huskies would have to be awarded an at-large bid.
But Washington State, which finished seventh in conference standings, could be the more alluring team to the WNIT. The Cougars (17-16) defeated four ranked teams this season, including the Bears in advancing to the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament.
WSU also swept UW (17-13) in two regular-season games and have a better RPI rating. WSU ranks 57th compared to UW’s 89.
Washington State hasn’t advanced to the postseason since a 1991 NCAA tournament appearance. UW has made five WNIT appearances in program history, losing in the second round last year. It last played in the NCAA tournament in 2007.
UW’s 2013 WNIT run was the school’s second consecutive 20-win season, earning former coach Kevin McGuff a contract extension. Nearly three weeks after signing it, McGuff accepted the Ohio State position. He was born in Ohio while his wife is a Michigander.
“That would be quite ironic, wouldn’t it?” UW senior G Mercedes Wetmore said of Neighbors leaving for home, too. Neighbors was hired by McGuff for the UW assistant coach position in 2011. “I haven’t heard any talk amongst the team. We’re not concerned with it. If something like that did happen…I mean, his (Neighbors) kids are there. His daughter is going there. It’s just a very tough situation that everyone would just have to deal with and we fully support him. If something like that did happen, we know he would make the right decision for himself and for this team.”
For now, Neighbors is planning to host the Huskies at his house on Monday for a pasta dinner to wait for word about any postseason berths together.
“I talked to them about it,” Neighbors said of the Arkansas position. He graduated from the school in 1993. “I’m not one to shelter our players from anything. I said, ‘Hey, you guys are going to read this on Twitter. Just like I can’t control what people say about you on Twitter, just so you know…’ And I told them exactly what’s happening and I’ll keep them up to date.
“All I’ve been focused on is who we could possibly play in the NIT.”