Ernie Kent was all smiles as he walked into the Southridge Athletic Complex on Friday night.
And for good reason: Kent is back in the men’s college basketball coaching business after being hired in March by Washington State University athletic director Bill Moos.
It’s Kent’s first coaching job since being fired in 2010 at the University of Oregon, and he says he’s more than ready.
“I’ve defined it as being a big bear, a big grizzly, who has been hibernating and just woke up hungry and relentless,” said Kent, who was one of many WSU coaches and officials attending the 17th annual Tri-Cities Cougar Tailgate event. “There’s a lot of work to do, a lot to get accomplished in a short amount of time. I have to beat the bushes, rely on my experience and contacts.”
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And he’s found some talent.
“There’s still an abundance of guards out there who were available,” said Kent. “But there hasn’t been a lot of big guys. So we’re holding one scholarship out just in case.”
Moos has no doubt Kent — who was 235-174 in 13 seasons at Oregon — will get things done in Pullman.
“This is the second time I’ve hired him,” said Moos, who was the AD at Oregon before coming to WSU. “He’s so energized. He’s put together a fabulous staff. I really feel the future is bright for men’s basketball.”
Kent has spent the last four seasons as a television announcer, a job that involves knowing each team in the Pac-12 Conference as well as the back of his hand.
“He told me ‘I know more about the Pac-12 than when I was a coach at Oregon,’” said Moos.
Kent has that Pac-12 pedigree.
“I played in the conference when it was the Pac-8,” he said. “I coached in it when it was the Pac-10. And I announced it when it was the Pac-12.”
And he wouldn’t take just any job. There had to be a good reason for him to come to Pullman.
“Two words: Bill Moos,” Kent said. “You’ve got an athletic director who is one of the best in the country. He understands the athletics side of things, and he also understands the marketing side of things. He has some passion for what he does. He’s created a buzz.”
So has WSU football coach Mike Leach, who led the Cougars to a 6-7 record last season that included an appearance in the New Mexico Bowl.
Wazzu fans congregated around Leach to talk with him and take pictures with him all evening.
People also wanted to talk to him about the new Football Operations Building.
“Our athletic facilities are the best in the conference,” Leach said. “We move into them in about a week.”
Meanwhile, Leach and his staff have been busy.
“We’ve been working some camps,” he said. “We’ve had a staff retreat, and we’ve come out of there with a real fish story.”
Leach and his coaches were in McCall, Idaho, earlier this week fishing when they caught a 9-foot, 300-pound sturgeon.
Meanwhile, the book he co-authored with Buddy Levy — Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior — came out last month. It’s been getting good reviews.
As for football, “If I see steady improvement and in the end if we win one game a week, that’ll make me happy.”
WSU women’s basketball coach June Daugherty is looking to be really happy this coming season after a 17-17 season.
It’s been two decades since the Cougar women made the NCAA tournament, but it could happen this coming season.
“We are really excited about this year,” said Daugherty. “I think it’ll be fun for the fans to watch Tia (Presley) and Lia (Galdeira).
“We’re really proud of the kids,” she continued. “We’re like 1,000-percent as a graduation rate. We were two games away from making the NCAA tournament this spring. We had two all-conference kids. So we’re pretty excited.”
Daugherty also had a great recruiting class.
But the biggest thing is anywhere she goes, to the local Safeway or any other store, people want to talk Cougar women’s basketball with her.
The turning point, she said, was the Cougars’ 76-72 road victory over nationally ranked Nebraska on Nov. 30.
“That was huge for us,” she said. “We’ve always played a tough schedule. You have to to play in the Pac-12. But they believed it. From that point forth. You could see the confidence and the hunger in them.”