One day after initial reports surfaced linking Kyle Smith to Washington State’s vacant men’s basktetball job, the two sides have agreed to a longterm contract to make Smith the Cougars’ 19th coach.
According to a Spokesman-Review source, Smith has formally accepted a six-year contract that will pay the former University of San Francisco coach $1.4 million annually.
Ernie Kent, who was fired after leading the Cougars to a 13-18 record in 2018-19, was also earning an annual salary of $1.4 million. It’s costing WSU $4.2 million over the next three years to buy out the remainder of Kent’s contact, which was set to expire after the 2021-22 season.
When Washington State’s Board of Regents convenes Thurday, it will consider approving additional expenditures “for the purposes of hiring a men’s basketball coaching staff,” according to the meeting agenda.
WSU, which will be paying current and former basketball coaches $2.8 million per year over the next three years, will ask for an additional $500,000 at Thursday’s meeting, per the agenda. State law mandates any expenditures over $250,000 not included in the previous fiscal year’s budget be brought forth to, and approved by, the Board of Regents.
Multiple reports indicated that Boise State’s Leon Rice and Montana’s Travis DeCuire both declined offers from WSU before the Cougars reached out to Smith, but a source with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed that was false. The source said Smith was the only person who was offered the job.
Smith’s top assistant, associate head coach Jay Golden, is in line to become the Dons’ next coach.
The Cougars are counting on someone who’s had no trouble winning at the mid-major level to transform a program that’s gone 11 years since last appearing in the NCAA tournament, and 10 since it last won a game in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Smith doesn’t have any coaching experience in the Pac-12 or at the Power Six level, but the 49-year-old who’s been touted as an analytics guru won at least 20 games in each of his first three seasons as the Dons’ coach and has been to multiple lower-level postseason tournament title games.
During a “Cougs in 60” interview with radio host Derek Deis, WSU athletic director Pat Chun indicated what the school would be seeking in its next basketball coach.
“Our coaches that have been the most successful here have a belief system of what their program needs to look like,” Chun said, “and a conviction that no matter what the adversity comes, no matter what the world is telling you, we are going to do it our way and we’re going to be happy with the results.”
Advanced numbers became an integral component of Smith’s tenure at USF, where the coach and his staff tracked 50 statistical categories for every player, including 12 for rebounding alone, according to a profile in The Athletic.
The analytics-heavy approach employed by Smith at USF was affectionately coined “Nerdball.”
“We might as well be putting our guys out there in bifocals,” Smith told The Athletic.
The unorthodox approach has been effective at both of the mid-major outposts he’s worked at.
Smith’s 2017-18 USF team was a runner-up at the CBI and he took Columbia to the CIT championship game in 2016. Smith, who has an overall head coaching record of 164-122, spent six seasons at Columbia prior to his stint at USF.
In Pullman, Smith will inherit a program that’s finished sub-.500 each of the last seven seasons and won just 22 Pac-12 games in Kent’s five seasons at the helm.
And he’ll be tasked with reconstructing a roster that loses three seniors, including Robert Franks, who was the Pac-12’s top scorer and a first team all-conference selection last season. Reserve guard Carter Skaggs has elected to leave the program and pursue other opportunities as a graduate transfer and starting forward Jeff Pollard is reportedly browsing his options after entering the NCAA’s transfer portal.
Of the three players signed to WSU’s 2019 class, just one – transfer guard Ryan Murphy – has assured he’d be sticking with the Cougars. Texan forward Nigel John has reopened his commitment, but indicated WSU is still his first option, and forward Daron Henson – a former Utah State Aggie – hasn’t given any hints one way or the other.