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Eastern Washington hires Dan Monson, the fired coach who led his team to NCAA tournament

In Sports
April 13, 2024
Mar 20, 2024; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Long Beach State 49ers head coach Dan Monson addresses the media during the NCAA first round practice session at Delta Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 20, 2024; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Long Beach State 49ers head coach Dan Monson addresses the media during the NCAA first round practice session at Delta Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

The coach who set Gonzaga on a path toward becoming a basketball powerhouse is returning to his Spokane-area roots.

Eastern Washington has hired Dan Monson, 62, to be its next head coach, the university announced on Friday night.

Monson was the head coach at Gonzaga before the school boasted charter flights, state-of-the-art facilities or money for anything more than basic necessities. In 1999, he took the tiny Jesuit school on an out-of-nowhere Elite Eight run that laid the foundation for its evolution from charming underdog to deep-pocketed powerhouse.

Had Monson remained at Gonzaga to see the seeds he planted blossom, he might still preside over that Pacific Northwest dynasty with a 25-year NCAA tournament streak. He instead accepted an offer to become Minnesota’s next head coach, lured by a contract offer worth seven or eight times as much as what Gonzaga was paying him.

The Minnesota program that Monson inherited was mired in a serious academic fraud scandal. Monson shined and polished Minnesota’s tarnished image during his seven-plus years, but the Gophers made only one NCAA tournament appearance in his tenure.

For the next 17 years, Monson was the head coach at Long Beach State, guiding the program to three straight first-place Big West finishes from 2011-2013. Monson drew national attention last month when he guided Long Beach State to the NCAA tournament days after his athletic director informed him that the 2023-24 season would be his last as the school’s head coach

Rallying around Monson, fourth-seeded Long Beach State reeled off three wins in three nights to claim the Big West tournament title and the automatic NCAA tournament bid that comes with it. Long Beach State athletic director Bobby Smitheran then famously tried to take credit for the run, telling the Associated Press he was hoping the team would play better knowing Monson wasn’t coming back.

“My belief and the hope is that by doing what I did and the timing of it, they would play inspired, and that’s what they did,” Smitheran told the Associated Press. “I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but it worked.”

Monson took the high road after those comments, going out of his way to defend the athletic director who told him he was not wanted back at Long Beach State once his contract ran out. Monson soaked up every moment of his return to the NCAA tournament and blew kisses to the Long Beach State crowd after the Beach suffered an 85-65 first-round loss to second-seeded Arizona.

When asked last month if he intended to stay in coaching after Long Beach State’s run ended, Monson told Yahoo Sports, “I really want to coach. This has rejuvenated me.” At the time, not even he could possibly have imagined that would mean a fairytale return to a part of the country where he is still a beloved figure.

On April 3, Eastern Washington began a search for a new coach after David Riley left to take the vacant Washington State job. Nine days later, Eastern Washington was drafting a statement that it had hired Monson as Riley’s successor.

“Throughout the search for our next men’s basketball coach, it was important, for us, to identify a head coach who represented this area,” Eastern Washington athletic director Tim Collins said. “While talking to Dan, it became clear that this region matters as much to him as Eastern does to it.”

Monson inherits a program that has changed coaches three times since 2017 yet has remained a perennial contender in the Big Sky. Eastern Washington has won either the Big Sky regular season or conference tournament title four times since 2020.

A quarter century ago, a job offer infamously led Monson to leave Gonzaga at the worst possible time.

Now, another job offer has brought him back to another Spokane-area university less than a 30 minute drive away.

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