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EGGERS: Taking a deep look at Oregon State basketball, post-Craig Robinson

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: MEG WILLIAMS - CRAIG ROBINSONBob De Carolis did the right thing on Monday when he relieved Craig Robinson of his head basketball coaching duties at Oregon State.

Problem is, the decision came six weeks too late.

In late March, OSU's athletic director announced he was retaining Robinson, who had three years remaining on a contract worth $4 million.

That's a lot of dinero for a buyout, especially from a school that isn't rolling in clover in terms of financial stability.

Insiders say the reason wasn't the money, though. In their postseason meeting, Robinson had persuaded his boss to give him at least another year. Word is, De Carolis actually bought the pitch.

"He has presented me with a plan that will move the program forward to achieve the goals this university supports," De Carolis said in a statement at the time.

What Robinson could have said to convince De Carolis of that is anybody's guess, unless the university supports the goal of buying its way into the CBI every year.

The Beavers were loaded for bear last season, with seniors Robert Nelson, Angus Brandt and Devon Collier, junior Eric Moreland and freshman Hallice Cooke matching up with any starting five in the Pac-12.

What they didn't have was a coach to navigate them through tough times and in clutch situations at the end of games. They wound up 8-10 in conference play, 16-16 overall and on the short end of a humiliating first-round CBI loss to Radford in which spectators were introduced to the players pregame.

When De Carolis made the decision to retain Robinson, "I was looking at it through orange-colored glasses," he said during a Monday press conference. "After I re-evaluated all those thoughts, I was coming to a different place. I was more objective this time around. I simply now believe we need a fresh start."

What changed in six weeks? Moreland declared for the NBA, Cooke announced he was transferring and De Carolis was bombarded with calls and emails from alums and donors, questioning the wisdom of his decision to keep the president's brother-in-law.

It might be that De Carolis was ticked off that Robinson, in a Corvallis Gazette-Times interview following the announcement he would be back, declined to reveal the plan for success he had pitched to the De Carolis. Maybe De Carolis realized how ridiculous Robinson sounded in declaring that, if Moreland were to return, Oregon State would be ranked in the preseason top 25 next season.

Perhaps contributions arrived to pay off Robinson (though De Carolis said Monday donors won't help pay off the contract). Maybe the school will dip into its $1.2 billion fundraising campaign to unload the athletic department of a problem and get the basketball program a start in a new direction.

After De Carolis' announcement that he would retain Robinson, players still in the program may have approached the AD with complaints about the coach, or threats about leaving. If that's the case, the question would be, why didn't De Carolis seek out their opinion before reaching his decision?

I wrote six weeks ago that, though Oregon State couldn't afford to fire Robinson, it couldn't afford not to.

Another year of sinking fortunes -- it's no secret the cupboard is close to bare -- would have dropped the program even lower, putting the Beavers another year behind in the resurrection movement.

Sometimes you have to cut your losses, however painful it is in the pocketbook in the short term.

A new coach will bring hope and renewed interest in Beaver basketball. (A first order of business, incidentally, should be influencing the promising Cooke -- still enrolled at OSU for spring term -- to stay put).

A lot of people out there care. And there's no reason to think the Beavers can't accomplish what Dana Altman has done at Oregon. The possibility of an NCAA Tournament appearance over the next few years is not a pipe dream.

Whatever the reason, however late the timing, I applaud De Carolis for making the correct decision. And I like that he's not using a search firm, as he did (at some cost) in finding Robinson.

Now De Carolis, and a small group of people on his search committee, must make the right hire. I'd like to see him go for a coach who views Corvallis as a destination (see Mike Riley, Pat Casey, Scott Rueck), not a springboard to a better job. On the other hand, if the new coach were to leave for greener pastures in two years, it's because he has done a good job at Oregon State, which would make the job better for the next coach.

Rick Adelman, who recently resigned as coach of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves because of wife Mary Kay's health issues, said Monday he is not interested in the OSU position. Too bad, because Adelman would have been sensational. If you think he's too old at 67, check out what 73-year-old Larry Brown has done at Southern Methodist.

Plenty of names have been thrown out there. Boise State's Leon Rice, who reportedly turned down the job that Ernie Kent accepted at Washington State. Philadelphia 76ers assistant Vance Walberg, the former Pepperdine coach. Ex-UCLA coach Ben Howland. Weber State's Randy Rahe. Wisconsin assistant Gary Close. Seattle Pacific's Ryan Looney. Montana's Wayne Tinkle.

I would offer New Mexico State's Marvin Menzies, who over the past three years has won 76 games and taken the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament's second round all three seasons.

I've known Damon Stoudamire since his sophomore year at Portland's Wilson High. Stoudamire, now an assistant at his alma mater, Arizona, has deep Oregon roots, is a student of the game and owns a personality that would prove useful in the recruiting process. At 40, he's young enough to connect well with and appeal to college kids. I'm not sure that Corvallis is Damon's style, but his hiring would have some plusses.

Two candidates who need to be interviewed are David Grace and Lester Conner.

Grace, 49, was an assistant on Oregon State's staff for five years before leaving to join Steve Alford at UCLA last year. My first thought is, the association with Robinson's tenure is not a positive. Program insiders tell me Grace is a good coach, however, and ought to be considered.

"I've had a lot of people reach out to me today," Grace told me from his home in Los Angeles.

Grace said he left Oregon State because he was offered "a lot better (financial) package" by UCLA. He hadn't yet been contacted by De Carolis, "but hopefully that will be the case," he said. "I'm excited. I would love to come back.

"I recruited for that school for five years. I'm close to the players who are currently there. My son (Andre House) goes to school at Crescent Valley. I fell in love with the community and the great people at Oregon State."

Conner, the All-America guard under Ralph Miller at Oregon State who played 12 seasons in the NBA, just completed his first season as an assistant coach at Denver and his 11th as an assistant in the NBA. Conner, 53, is a bit leery after being passed over by De Carolis -- because he doesn't have a college degree -- when Robinson was hired six years ago.

"I have a great situation here in Denver," said Conner, head coach Brian Shaw's lead assistant with the Nuggets. "I'd be interested in listening if (OSU officials) are serious about talking to me. I didn't think last time they were serious.

"It's one of the few jobs I would consider. It's my alma mater. I've not coached at the college level, but I think I know what needs to be done to succeed in Corvallis."

Conner, who guesses he is about a year's worth of credits shy of graduation, has looked into his academic situation and would be willing to work on gaining the degree while he was coaching. It's a deal that has been made at several schools around the country during similar hirings.

I would say this on the subject: Conner has a degree in coaching basketball. His communication skills are outstanding, and the recruiting potential with a coach like that is unlimited. With his experience under a variety of NBA coaches, I think he'd be an excellent X's and O's guy. Whether or not he has a diploma is insignificant in directing Oregon State to success on the basketball court.

There is plenty of disgruntlement in Beaver Nation with De Carolis, whose contract runs through July 2016. A group of alums and donors have a meeting planned with him over the next two weeks to discuss their concerns.

I'm a fan of De Carolis personally, an appreciation I've gradually developed in the years since he took the baton from Mitch Barnhart as AD in 2002. De Carolis has done some good things during his dozen years in charge of the athletic department. He has worked hard at fundraising and gotten a number of facility projects completed, including Reser Stadium, the Sports Performance Center, the basketball training facility and the academic support center. He re-hired Riley and hired Rueck, who has the women's basketball program going in the direction its men's counterparts should be.

But De Carolis twice gave contract extensions to Robinson, an egregious move that put the athletic department behind a $4-million eight-ball. After the past football season, De Carolis chose not to pay bonuses to assistant coaches for playing in the Hawaii Bowl that were written into their contracts. Granted, money is tight at OSU, but it still created some friction within the program.

And De Carolis hired LaVonda Wagner, then took too long to fire her as women's basketball coach, leaving Rueck to inherit what amounted to an intramural program when he arrived four years ago.

The Robinson situation is analogous to that of Wagner. De Carolis dragged his feet in both cases before finally pulling the trigger.

I'm not sure how school )resident Ed Ray will look at all of this. It may be that De Carolis -- who told me last year he'd be interested in staying beyond the end of his contract -- will lose his job. Or be told that he'll be allowed to finish out his deal but then be forced to retire. At 61 and battling the effects of Parkinson's disease, it might be a good plan for all.

For now, De Carolis has one of the most important decisions in recent athletic department history on his plate. He took the right step in ending the Robinson era. The next step is hiring a replacement who can bring on a return to Miller time -- or maybe something even better.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers