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Moore: Whoever coaches WSU hoops next will be welcome after Ernie Kent

Ernie Kent spent five seasons as WSU head coach before he was fired Thursday. (AP)

Sometime last year after Pat Chun stopped by the 710 ESPN Seattle studios to be interviewed on our show, I asked the new Washington State athletic director what he planned to do about the foundering basketball team. He said he was going to give head coach Ernie Kent another year.

WSU fires men’s basketball coach Ernie Kent after 5 seasons

I was disappointed to hear that, pretty much feeling like Kent was not going to turn the program around in his fifth year if he hadn’t shown progress in his first four years.

Then again, everyone always pointed to the huge buyout Kent would get if he were fired, preventing his dismissal. But Wednesday night it finally reached the breaking point when Chun decided he’d look under his couch cushions to find the last few dollars of the $4.2 million needed to pay Kent to leave Pullman. Typical of performances we’ve seen under Kent, the Cougs looked hopeless and hapless against the Ducks in the Pac-12 tournament, losing 74-51 in yet another non-competitive effort, scoring just three points in the first 11 minutes of the game.

What told me that this just couldn’t continue were the “crowds” at Beasley Coliseum this year and last year and in almost every year of the Ernie Kent Era, one that ended up looking like the Paul Graham Era, the worst era in Cougar basketball history. You can’t keep trotting out a coach in front of hundreds of fans. There were games that appeared to have 200 or 300 fans at tipoff. No one cared about Cougar basketball anymore.

It’s a weird deal. Why was Kent able to build so many successful teams at Oregon and fail so miserably at Washington State? I don’t have an answer for that, nor do I have an answer as to why former A.D. Bill Moos kept rolling over Kent’s contract after back-to-back-to-back losing seasons.

Another indication that so many things were wrong with the program – according to CougCenter.com, 15 players transferred during Kent’s five years, including Malachi Flynn, who went to San Diego State. If Flynn had stayed, the Cougs might have been fairly decent this year with Robert Franks, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, and C.J. Elleby, the conference’s freshman of the year.

Now what? I’ve seen many of the names thrown out there by Cougfan.com and Coug Center, and I like them all. Why? Because whoever the next coach is, it won’t be Ernie Kent. Whoever it is, he won’t be worse, it’s just not possible. I know that whoever it is, he’ll probably have to accept a contract of $1 million a year, maybe less, because of the $4.2 million buyout to Kent.

If Chun asked me, I’d tell him to find a rising young assistant who stresses fundamentals and defense. I watched most of the games this year and what bothered me most were the careless turnovers. It’s as if the players never learned how to dribble and pass. I know they did, but if you watched Cougar basketball, you sometimes wondered if that were the case. It reached a point where I didn’t care if it was a bad shot or not – I wanted to see a bad shot over no shot at all. The Cougs turned it over 16 times in the first half against Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament, and it went from shaking your head in disgust to laughing at how bad they were at taking care of the ball.

Plus I don’t care if the players are less talented than their opponents, which is typically the case with Cougar basketball anyway, just give me the ones who want to play defense. And not just sometimes, all the time. Every possession. I’m still that old school guy that believes in defense showing up every night even when the shooting touch doesn’t. Defense keeps you in games and allows you to win on the nights when you don’t have your A game on offense. Give me one of Tony Bennett’s assistants at Virginia and bring back those boring 49-45 games, which at least we were highly competitive in and even got us to the Sweet Sixteen in 2008.

Funny thing is, it’s not as if Cougar basketball fans have unrealistic expectations. Just give us an 8-10 record in Pac-12 play and an invitation to the NIT or CBI as a jumping-off goal. I know that the CBI was a tournament for losers, but what the heck, it was fun anyway. Remember the three-game championship series with Pitt? I do too, and it was better than nothing in the postseason, which is what we got for five years with Kent.

When I saw a tweet saying that Kent had been fired on Thursday, I was excited about it and did not feel bad for him at all. He always made lame excuses for losing and gets the last laugh anyway with $4.2 million showing up in his bank account. It’s the same way I feel about the Mariners – with Cougar basketball, it’s beyond time to start over, and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.

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