Tuesday, March 9, 2010

So long, Ernie Kent

Barring some freakish occurrence, like the Ducks winning the Pac-10 basketball tournament, Ernie Kent will end his 13-year stint as coach at the University of Oregon.

It's too bad it has to end on a sour note: back-to-back dreadful seasons despite having some talented players.

Still, Kent has the most wins in school history with a 234-172 record. He led the Ducks to five NCAA Tournaments, half of the school's total. The Ducks made it to the Elite Eight twice in his tenure. Also, the Ducks won the 2002 Pac-10 regular season title, the first since 1945, and won two conference tournament titles in 2003 and 2007.

He was the first African-American head coach in any sport at Oregon.

Plus, in the 1970s, Kent was known as "Million Moves" of the fabled Kamikaze Kids at Mac Court. He is a Fighting Duck, through and through.

Plus, Kent exuded class and refinement, and always impeccably dressed. Concessionaires at Eugene's Mahlon Sweet Airport had kind words to say about Kent. "Always pleasant," they said, even on coming home after tough road losses.

But, losing gets coaches fired. That's the name of the game. Also, Kent, a married man with three grown kids, showed poor judgment in having an affair with the daughter of a prominent booster (no, not Phil Knight), a few years ago that presaged his fall from grace.

Now, with the $200 million Matt Court set to open next season on the east end of campus, the university is looking for a fresh start for the shiny, new place.

Some names have been tossed around: Mark Few, the Gonzaga coach who has close ties to the Willamette Valley, and P.J. Carlesimo, the former Trail Blazers' coach whose best days on the bench were 20 years ago at Seton Hall. His coaching days are over after poor pro stints at Golden State and Oklahoma City. The only thing Carlesimo brings is connections to the NBA, which could help in recruiting.

It would be great to see Few jump to the Pac-10 where he would have a better shot of reaching the Final Four and, possibly, winning a national championship.

But, he's got a great thing going in Spokane where the Zags are the only game in town and are a source of inspiration in eastern Washington, northern Idaho and points beyond. In spite of getting drubbed this year in the West Coast Conference tournament final by St. Mary's (Kent also coached there), he's still the toast of the town.

In Eugene, football is king right now. Track and cross-country are also sources of pride.

But a new coach, a new arena and Nike backing could alter the future of Oregon basketball. It has known the ultimate glory once, in 1939, when the Tall Firs won the very first NCAA title. It's braced for greatness again.

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