Boise State coach Leon Rice staying put despite WSU’s efforts
Leon Rice pulled out of the search for WSU men’s basketball coach and will remain at Boise State. It’s an apparent setback for the Cougars, who are seeking to replace the fired Ken Bone.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Washington State’s search for a men’s basketball coach will move to different turf after Boise State’s Leon Rice pulled out and opted to remain coach of the Broncos.
Late Saturday afternoon, BSU released a statement, noting enhancements to Rice’s contract, including a $100,000 raise to $596,573 annually.
Rice’s decision represents an apparent setback for the Cougars, seeking a candidate who can re-energize a sagging fan base and return the program to respectability. Recently fired Ken Bone was 80-86 in five years, 29-61 in Pac-12 games, and the Cougars finished 11th in the league this season.
After interviewing with WSU athletic director Bill Moos last week, Rice, 50, had decided as of Friday to remain with Boise State, in news tweeted by ESPN.com late that evening.
A report in The Spokesman-Review of Spokane on Saturday indicated that Moos and WSU president Elson Floyd were making a renewed, in-person push to get Rice to change his mind. It’s unclear whether that happened, however, and Boise State’s statement quoted Rice as saying: “I am really excited for the future of Bronco basketball. There has been a great commitment to grow this program. There’s a commitment from our administration, our student-athletes and our fans.
“That’s what has me looking forward to continuing to build what we have here at Boise State.”
When Moos fired Bone March 18, he mentioned Rice, in answer to a question, as a strong candidate.
He also praised the work of his former coach at Oregon, Ernie Kent, who is believed to be interested in the opening and who may now figure more prominently in the WSU picture. Kent, 59, has been out of coaching since he was fired by Oregon after the 2009-10 season, having struggled to a two-year, Pac-10 record of 9-27 after taking the Ducks to Elite Eight appearance in 2002 and 2007.
Other names advanced in the WSU search include ex-Cougar coach (1987-94) Kelvin Sampson, now a Houston Rockets assistant who has been wooed by the University of Houston; New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies; and Georgia coach Mark Fox, an assistant at Washington more than two decades ago whose background is primarily in the West.
As for Rice, he had come to Boise State four years ago after 11 years as an assistant at Gonzaga. Some of his appeal had to do with him being a WSU alum (1986) and the fact he is a native of Richland and familiar with the Northwest.
Rice took the Broncos to the NCAA tournament last year, only the school’s second trip since 1994. They were 21-13 this season, 9-9 in the Mountain West, but return some key parts of that team next year, and Rice has expressed enthusiasm about incoming recruits.
Rice likely would have stood to make significantly more money at WSU. Moos has indicated the Cougars likely will pay in the neighborhood of $1 million annually for Bone’s replacement.
His new contract at Boise State specifies Rice receives an automatic year’s rollover for 18 wins or a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org