Thursday, April 09, 2009

Ben Johnson STAYING at WSU

No link this moment, but Ken Bone just said on KJR that Ben Johnson is STAYING IN PULLMAN! Nice, on many, many levels!

That is all.

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Coug Hoop Assistants Abandon Ship?

Per Grippi, the assistants under Bennett are starting to go over the rail. First Ron Sanchez made it official (although nobody is surprised, given that Sanchez accompanied Bennett to Virginia for his press conference, etc!). We also already heard that Mike Heideman would be moving on, based on his long-time relationships with the Bennett family. And Grippi also re-confirms that Mark Woodley is going in another direction.

So who's left? As of right this moment, Ben Johnson.

Will he stay or will he go? And does it REALLY MATTER?

First of all, the two assistants you used to hear the most about in terms of recruiting ability were Ron Sanchez and Ben Johnson. Losing Sanchez hurts, absolutely. He has been regarded as a big reason for Xavier Thames, and a hope that Thames will still honor his commitment if Sanchez were kept around. But Sanchez leaving seemed like a foregone conclusion from the moment Bennett took the job. But it isn't the end of the world. Truth be told, the common man such as myself heard more about Johnson than any other assistant over the years. Some WSU beat writers (Grippi??) actually thought Johnson could be a candidate for the WSU head coaching position, even if Jim Sterk and Elson Floyd didn't.

So the focus is now on Johnson, and whether or not he'll follow the Bennett's as he has done in his past. Or will he stay to build something greater in Pullman, and maybe one day get a head gig himself, ala the "benefactor" as BH refers to him?

Now before you freak out, I wonder if we are just too close to it to see things clearly? I mean does it really matter which holdover assistants a new head coach actually keeps? I know there is a ton of interest in what this incoming recruiting class is going to do, and some of it very likely could be tied to which assistants are kept and so on. But can you let a few kids hold a program hostage by trying to dictate who should be kept? Of course not.

Think about it for a second. So many times you see a new coach come in. Do they always simply inherit the current assistants? No. Not in college hoops, college football, NFL football, MLB, or the NBA. Sure, a few might be kept around, such as Levy and Steve Broussard last year in the football program, and for good reason. And without a doubt, Johnson would be a good "get" for Bone, for a variety of reasons. It would be a better situation if he is kept, for recruiting, sure, but for just the idea of helping Bone settle into the WSU job. But for the most part, in all sports where a new coach is brought in from the outside, the head guy wants "his guys", not force-fed the prior staff.

And it's not like Bone is coming alone. He'll bring a key assistant or two with him, and he'll probably hire one from somewhere else as well. There is already talk of four or even five assistants that will be behind Bone in the pecking order, so give the guy a chance. Don't simply assume he's already failed at this because the majority of the Bennett assistants are moving on. There could be so many reasons we'll never know about as to why an assistant leaves, from as extreme loyalty to Bennett, to another job offer elsewhere, to even just the simple fact of it's time to move on down the road.

One name already mentioned is former UW player and current PSU assistant Curtis Allen. Per Bob Condotta at the Times, Allen will likely be asked to follow Bone to Pullman. Sure, Allen is a former HUSKY hoopster, but he's also well-regarded by Bone, enough so to likely get an offer to be a part of his staff in Pullman. You can read Allen's coaching bio here. Allen is young, and he's a Tacoma product. Think that will help just a little bit in recruiting the west side? It sure couldn't hurt to try and mine some gold in the Puget Sound area, an area that the Bennett's never could make any progress.

And about Allen and the former UW tie? Get over it. We joke about it all the time, but it really doesn't matter. Just like former WSU footballer Johnny Nansen is coaching for Steve Sarkisian's staff in Montlake, it means nothing. See, not every former player can go back and coach at their alma mater! There simply isn't enough room on the bench. Even the UW head man Lorenzo Romar served some time on UCLA's bench.

Meanwhile, Cougfan broke last night that "one recruit is secured, three to go for Bone". While the story is premium, we can't list the name....but it is a player regarded as "an all-state SWING MAN". By that description alone, you can probably figure out who it is.

In that same breath, it's not over yet with Xavier Thames. Again, per Cougfan, Bone will sit down with Thames on Saturday to go over the new direction of the program. Bone has his work cut out for him, but if he can persuade Thames to stick with it, well, we can consider it an early win.

Oh yeah, spring football is still going on. There's this from Grippi, saying that the team was pretty flat on Tuesday. Oh well. They are in the "dog days" of spring. This happens during fall camp as well. The initial surge is over, but they still have work to do.

One last thing - FACEBOOK. We actually figured out a way to set up a true "WSU Football Blog" group on Facebook. Hoorah. Go to Facebook and search for WSU Football Blog and you'll find it. We'll be putting up photos, link to our current stories, etc. And if you have some photos you want to share, basically anything WSU-related? Send them on and we'll post them on Facebook. E-mail to: See, setting up a WSU Football Blog group, that was the intent all along with Facebook. I just had no idea what I was doing.

That's it. Enjoy your Thursday, AND GO COUGS!
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Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Nice! Hooray team Tiger, hooray Masters. And thanks to "Woody" for the heads-up. I like the showing of the colors in random places. Who doesn't? And where is ATLCoug??.

I know he went to Stanford, but cool of him to support the Cougs by putting on the hat for a shot. I guess...a Tiger.....wait for it....can change his stripes? MMMMMM??
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Be A Big Boner!

I sure am....

Greetings, Cougar Nation, hope you're having a great week.

So, finally we have a new basketball coach. And let me tell you, this is one tremendous hire.

Mind you, the hire becomes officially great the moment that we retain the services of Johnson (a.k.a. "the Benefactor"), Thames, and Motum.

But, after we finish up with that trifecta, then we are left with where we were ten days ago. With one exception: we have a better coach.

Now, granted T-Bone is and was one smoothe customer. He is a great recruiter, motivator, and a darn good basketball coach.

But as good as Tony was and is, he is awfully green. And while his offensive sets have been described as creative, I thought a lot of our execution in the half court over the years was pretty abysmal. And I also think that Tony's rotations have always left a lot to be desired (see our transfer list as an example).

So, now we have a guy with a wealth of HEAD coaching experience, who has won at EVERY level he's coached. And because Bone teams don't average 99 a game, you can all relax that the guy knows a thing or two about playing D.

Moreover, to all the "he's from the Big Sky" haters: THE DUDE HAS coached at the Pac-10 level during the years that the Dawgs were REALLY good (as in #1 seed good even if they were the WORST #1 seed of all time.)

So, the guy is all upside on the coaching end. Then to top it all off, he's 50 which is JUST young enough to relate to the kiddies but old enough to have a difficult time stepping up and out.

In that way, it sure looks like we have our guys (Wulff and Bone) for a while. Lets sit back this year and support them both through the final growing pains.

2010 is going to be a HELL of a year for Cougar sports.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

BONE Lands WSU Gig

Get your "Bone the Dawgs" tees while you can, as it is all over now. I guess you saw this coming when Stew Morrill and Mike Davis pulled out early Monday AM, but the leader on day one of the search has prevailed. Per Vince Grippi, WSU has hired Ken Bone as their next head hoops coach, replacing the forked-tongue serpent who slithered off to Virginia, free to toil in the nether regions of the ACC basement (just kidding....kinda).

BH will give his detailed hoops thoughts on this hire in the coming days, and what it means for today AND tomorrow. But as someone who has heard Ken Bone on the KJR airwaves several times the last few years, I can't help but be enthusiastic over this hire. KJR's Ian Furness has had him on his show a few times, and the last time he had him on was right before March Madness. After the interview, Furness said "I will tell you what - IF Tony Bennett leaves WSU, Ken Bone is THE GUY for the Cougs!"

Bone is well respected on many levels, and you rarely - if EVER - hear anything negative about the guy. And oh yeah, he wins. Everywhere he's been. PERIOD.

*77-49 in four years at PSU, including two tourney appearances the last two seasons.

*253-97 in 12 seasons at SPU.

*Combined record at both schools = 330-146

Sounds good to me. But there are questions, as always.

1) Can he recruit the Seattle-area talent, a region full of D-1 players every single year? The same Seattle area that hasn't been plentiful under the Bennett regime?

2) What happens with Bone's approach with this roster? How much will he tweak things for a bunch of kids recruited into Bennett Ball into his vision? He is regarded a bit as a guy who has coached different styles, but will it be a bunch of 44-40 type scores, or will he rev things up? Does he have a true commitment to the defensive end, or will he try and make these kids run?

3) How about the assistants? Sanchez is likely gone to UVA, but what about Ben Johnson or Matt Woodley? And who will Bone take with him from the PSU bench?

4) And maybe the most pressing issue of all - can he keep the current young players happy while also reel in the recruits who have already inked their letters of intent (Thames anyone?)?

It is going to be awfully interesting to see what happens. But all I know is I really, really like this move! Compared to the other candidates reported in the media, he was the right choice all along.

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Physical Scrimmage a Promising Sign?

GRIPPI UPDATE - 6:00 PM Saturday - "Jim Sterk, John Johnson and Anne McCoy are on their way back from Detroit having finished their interviews there, according to a source. We are sure they interviewed UAB’s Mike Davis along with at least two others, Portland State’s Ken Bone and, according to the Birmingham paper, former Phoenix Suns coach Terry Porter, though when and where is still unclear."

Grippi also mentions another candidate could have been in the mix for an interview, but hasn't been named nor confirmed. Meanwhile a
site at has been monitoring the situation from a UAB perspective. They claim that no job offer has been made, but one "could come as soon as today" according to a source. Stay tuned.

I know some people out there aren't thrilled with spring football. I mean really, how much can be gleaned out of March and April workouts, when it's not even close to a full roster? Some believe it doesn't really mean much, or that it's just another chance for an injury (like Andy Mattingly's injured pectoral?). Or maybe some players not even enrolled right now will be there in August, ready to make an impact, such as a JC transfer or high school frosh. Or, some just generally think it's a big waste of time. Even Bill Doba was heard celebrating a few years ago when they decided they wouldn't practice on weekends in the spring!

But what's not to like about the latest from Vince Grippi on today's scrimmage?

One observation: It’s tough to tell whether the Cougars are going to be improved – I’ll leave that to smarter people than I – but it is obvious they are more physical. The hitting today was at a level I don’t believe I saw in any practice last season. These guys like to pound each other.

Me? I like that. And I love spring football. That's right, I said it. But not just because it's the spring...I love it because you start to see some things take shape, things only subject to speculation and internet blabber for several months at a time. You know, such as the ongoing QB competition that has Marshall Lobbestael, JT Levenseller and Kevin Lopina each getting a shot to run the offense, even if Lobbestael is limited right now. Watching those QB's compete in the midst of snow on Wednesday was pretty cool. Not just to watch them go through the drills, but you could see in their body language that no matter what the calendar says, no matter how hard it was snowing in April, they are competing for a job that is wide open. You might not care about what happens right now, but they clearly do. Even in those lousy conditions, they were in there working hard to get better.

I love it because it gives coaches an opportunity to work on some of the finer details, such as Wulff's emphasis on special teams in an article from the other day. Quick, anyone recall how amazingly awful the special teams were towards the end of the Doba regime? Remember all the times you saw the offense go for it on fourth down from, say, the 25 or 30-yard line of the opponent, simply because of the lack of confidence in the kicker? Remember the squib kickoffs, driven by pure fear for the inability to actually cover a routine kickoff? Remember the 2006 Apple Cup, with the blocked punt for a TD by UW which amounted to the winning points in that game? Fake punts anyone?!?? Special teams can elevate or torpedo an entire season (and take a coaching staff down right along with it).

But most of all, I love the spring for the opportunities that present themselves for a young player to get on the field and learn. Learn from coaches getting paid a lot of money to teach them the fine art of playing football at a competitive level. A chance to learn from reps, time and again, which is the only real way a player can ever hope to improve. You can only watch film and study the playbook for so long before you have to go out there and see it for real, over and over and over again.

Let's face it, practice and reps are at a premium these days, with so many limitations via the NCAA on the amount or prep time players get with their coaches. While the full roster isn't even on the field, and most minds are on March Madness, basketball coaching changes or MLB opening day, these spring drills are awfully important for a very young football team. A young football team still trying to learn, grow, and mature. And it's important for THIS football team, right now. Why?

Because THIS football team hasn't been to the postseason since 2003.

You know why that is important? Because when you go to a bowl game, you get extra practices, sometimes 15 practices or more, leading up to said bowl game. That's almost the equivalent of an entire extra spring session, where young players can go through the reps again and again. Think of the advantages of, say, an Oregon State has over Washington State in the last five years. Oregon State, with bowl games in four of their last five years, has had at LEAST 60 MORE PRACTICES than WSU. That's about four extra spring sessions to learn from their coaches and work on their game. WSU is now in the bottom-third in the conference in overall record since the turn of the century. Meanwhile Oregon State is right there competing for 2nd-best in the conference since the year 2000.

OK, all that out of the way, the first scrimmage is now in the books. Grippi has a good read today from the scrimmage, as well as Marshall Lobbestael's recovery from his knee injury.

First, Lobbestael - the kid is working his butt off, and coming along nicely. But you know what else? It's FLIPPIN' GREAT to hear about the new hydrotheraphy facility!

Through all the stages, Lobbestael has spent time lounging in a pool, though lounging might be the wrong word, considering the pool is in WSU’s recently opened Cougar Mania Hydrotherapy Facility with its underwater treadmill that can reach 8.5 miles per hour.

Each of Lobbestael’s – or any recovering athlete’s – water workouts can be taped from different angles thanks to a series of cameras and a computer monitor.

“In rehab, I was walking on the underwater treadmill almost right away after,” Lobbestael said. “I started out really slow in there and just worked my way up.”

I remember at the last Bill Doba football dinner in the spring of 2007, coach Doba was talking it up about how much that hydro technology "thingy" will help players recover faster and more efficiently from injuries. Back then it was just a dream, but now, reality. Lobbestael is exhibit A, that this is a great investment in the athletic department.

The other thing to take is the mention of Grippi that this was one physical scrimmage. Think about it. How many times do you hear a losing team, in the post-game comments, say "the other team was just MORE PHYSICAL than we were today". You hear it in basketball, but especially football, and you hear it all the time. The more physical team that sets a tone is generally more successful than the finesse team that backs down when things get rough. Was this a physical team last year? They were a lot of things, but physical isn't a term I, you or anyone else would use describing the 2008 WSU football team. But I can't help but like the sound of these guys popping the pads and getting after each other. We know the talk of the players being bigger and stronger, but we've heard that before. But this year, to hear that it is actually starting to translate on the field, even if it is just practice? How can you NOT LOVE THAT!?!

Nothing new at this moment anyway on the coaching situation. Interesting from Withers about the wide net being cast at the Final Four (also known as Coaches Job Fair 2009). While losing Tony sucked, and the timing is never great....well, having a PAC-10 opening going into the Final Four, when you've proven you can 1) win in Pullman, and 2) get paid $1 million per year in Pullman is a good thing to have in your back pocket. Could be some interesting rumors over the next few days, but we can all be assured that Sterk and President Floyd are doing their best to deliver the right fit for our hoops team.

That's it for a Saturday. ENJOY THE WEEKEND (is that the SUN??) and GO COUGS!

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

THIS is Spring?

Welcome to spring football in Pullman. Yikes. Not exactly what you order up for the idea of taking in a practice on April 1st?

That said, this post will be like my youngest son - short and sweet. Why? Because yesterday we ventured from the lovely Coeur D' Alene resort down hwy 95, to at least TRY to take in some spring ball. It sounded like a great idea. The result? Not quite an EPIC FAIL.....but not that far off either. :)

First, the drive. If you've driven 95 between Moscow and Coeur D' Alene, you know it can be a long one. But we thought hey, middle of the week, middle of the day even, and on a non-game day at that, it should be smooth sailing. WRONG. You had the snow, of course, snowing sideways and making visability a chore at that. But then you had the locals on the road, doing 35 - at best - in many instances. And good luck trying to pass on a day like this. So let's just say I started sweating it when we only went 30 miles in the first hour of our 84-mile trip.

And all the while, our own Longball had set up shop in Dupus Boomers, anxiously awaiting our arrival with a birds-eye view of the practice field. Alas, we never met up as Shane had to take off before we could get there. Sorry Shane. We'll try it again sometime. And hopefully Longball has some good insight to add in a future post, as he watched most of the first hour or more of practice himself.

However, we DID make it for the last 30 or so minutes of the practice. And we did see some things that were worth the trip....

First and foremost, and I'll get this out of the way. Due to our delayed drive, where we spent about three hours on the road, we only saw the end of practice, and really just the 7-on-7 skeleton drills. That's pretty much it. And we took in the action from the warm, comfortable setting of the bookie, with a "Madden" EA Sports type view of the field, elevated behind the QB (which was actually pretty cool). And to be kind? The end of practice we saw wasn't great. In fact, it was almost as sloppy as the conditions. It was tough on the QB's to make great throws, it was tough for the WR's to haul in cold, wet balls, etc. So the conditions were less than ideal to get a full read on what was happening.

But what did we see? Well, the biggest/best thing to me was #8, Marshall Lobbestael. And not just seeing him on the sidelines either. Yep, Ocho Rojo was in the QB rotation in said skelly drills, and he looked JUST FINE DOING IT. That's right, he LOOKED JUST FINE. I know you've read media reports that he's been in there with the yellow jersey and doing the things of a normal QB in spring drills. But I can assure any of you reading this, it will do your crimson heart well to know that he looked as good as can be expected, and then some. He took the snap, made his drops, scanned the field and delivered the ball with confidence. And without a hobble that you might expect from a kid not even six months from MAJOR knee surgery? In fact, other than a brace and a sleeve of some kind on his left lower leg, you wouldn't have been able to tell that he was coming off an injury like that. It is an absolute marvel that he is out there competing, let alone looking as fluid as he does right now. I was honestly blown away.

JT Levenseller and Kevin Lopina were the other QB's in the rotation I saw, with each QB alternating snaps in the drills. JT made a few good throws, but had a few sail on him as well. He seemed to be a litte more hesitant with his reads, and checked down to the backs more often than the others, but it was good to see him in there competing. He did make a pretty good throw on a deep fade to the tight end, who was in one-on-one coverage with a safety, but the tight end dropped the sure long gain, which might have even gone for a TD. Oh well, it's spring. Plenty of time to clean it up. And Lopina looked like, well, Lopina. He seemed more decisive on where to go with the ball, a little quicker on his delivery. But semi-accurate on some throws, while some more or less floated on him as well. It was really that kind of day (or at least that kind of practice at that stage of the day?).

The WR's were a mixed bag. Jared Karstetter made a couple of nice grabs in traffic, one in which he took a pretty good shot over the middle, but he hung on to the ball. I don't know exactly his weight difference from last year to this year, but he looked bigger, thicker to me. I wonder if he'll be a pseudo-tight-end this year in the offense where he'll venture more over the middle or run more underneath stuff, utilizing his size inside? But that said, there were your fair share of dropped balls as well by the other WR's. One thing that did stand out to my eyes anyway was that in the view we had, ala the "Madden" view, elevated and behind the QB, I didn't see a lot of seperation between the WR's and DB's covering them. I think that had a lot to do with the QB's not getting the ball off too quickly, or checking down to their outlet receivers underneath or coming out of the backfield. But it's not like guys were running down the middle of the field wide open, waving their arms, yelling for the ball. I don't know if that's bad for the offense, or good for the kids in the secondary?

I guess that's about all I can report on. I know Vince is reporting that Andy Mattingly suffered a pectoral injury and was out of pads by the end of practice, but I never saw #45 at all. He was already done for the day by the time we got there.

The reward for making the drive down and braving the snow? SELLA'S! Wow do I miss that place. It has that Sella's smell that you know, as soon as you walk in, just like coming home. And both boys worked hard on drawing on their placemats, hoping to get theirs up on the wall like so many before them. But while that didn't work out, they were thrilled with the whole experience, and ended up taking their placemats home with them.

Best of all? While my 5-year old was more interested in the train at the depot downtown, my 8-year old has now given a verbal commitment to become a WSU Cougar. He has been to Pullman before for football games, but it's funny how coming on a snowy day in April has closed the deal. He loved walking around campus, loved the Cub, loved the bookie, loved the whole thing. But he also declared that "I will eat at Sella's three times a day when I'm living here!" I told him if that's the case, he'll gain so much weight they will end up rolling him up and down the Hill for classes. Not going to happen.

That's it for today. ENJOY YOUR THURSDAY, and GO COUGS!

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