PULLMAN — Add a disgruntled booster to Ken Bone’s growing docket of dilemmas.
The biggest athletics donor at Washington State University has taken to Twitter to lobby for the firing of the fourth-year men’s basketball coach as his Cougars (11-17, 2-13) ride an eight-game losing streak into their match-up with the Washington Huskies (15-13, 7-8) at 12:30 Sunday at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Greg Rankich, CEO of the Kirkland-based Xtreme Consulting Group, has repeatedly voiced his displeasure about the direction of the basketball program through his Twitter account.
“What time does the Cougar game start?” Rankich tweeted Feb. 10. “Oh wait, never mind, I won’t be watching until #FireKenBone happens.”
Rankich, a 1994 WSU alumnus who donated a record $3 million to the Cougar Football Project in 2011, is probably Bone’s wealthiest detractor. But he’s not alone, as other critics of the fourth-year coach have latched onto Rankich’s criticisms.
“The lack of success on the court is very frustrating and unfortunately this has made the fan base, including me, apathetic to the program,” Rankich said Thursday via email.
Bone’s last-place WSU team has given him plenty of opportunity to sound off — but Rankich’s criticisms fail to offer insight as to why the Cougars have fallen so precipitously since making back-to-back NCAA runs under former coach Tony Bennett.
Bone holds a respectable 68-63 record at WSU but said recently he has never dealt with this type of scrutiny. He kicked Reggie Moore – a three-year starter – off the team before the season for violating team rules. The Cougars would have benefited from contributions from Moore’s backup, Xavier Thames, but the point guard left the program after limited playing time his freshman year.
He now starts as a senior for San Diego State.
Only former coach Jack Friel (.624) has a better winning percentage than Bone (.519) through his first four seasons in Pullman.
“I think without a doubt we’ve taken a step back with wins and losses. That’s the reality,” Bone said this week. “But if you’re sitting in the basketball office with us coaches, you see growth in some areas that are critical for the future of the program.”
WSU athletic director Bill Moos has refused to comment on Bone’s future until he completes his annual season review with the current coaching staff.
Bone has three years remaining on the original seven-year contract he signed in 2009 under former athletic director Jim Sterk. A buyout clause in Bone’s deal would cost the athletic department $2.5 million to fire him after the 2012-2013 season. Rankich admitted via email earlier this week it wouldn’t be economically viable for the athletic department to part ways with the former University of Washington assistant and Seattle Pacific head coach after this season.
Players say they have tried to ignore the criticism of their coach.
“I never had to deal with it too much back home,” guard Dexter Kernich-Drew said. “I don’t really know too much what people are saying.”
Sophomore Royce Woolridge said there is no point to taking the critics, especially the ones demanding his coach be replaced.
You won’t see me on Twitter talking a lot,” he said. “Basketball is something I take pretty seriously so I like to keep it between me and the team.”
Bone said the team has continued to develop during the year, despite their current slide.
“I think the experience that some of these guys are getting, along with guys we have coming in next year, guys that are already here at school that are around – we like the pieces that are there,” he said.
Many like Rankich acknowledge that WSU can’t recruit the “one-and-done” players capable of immediately leading a team to an NCAA tournament and then entering the NBA. The Cougars last made back-to-back NCAA appearances with a roster comprised of junior and seniors. The current team has just four scholarship upperclassmen eligible to compete.
Meanwhile, the list of transfers in Bone’s in short tenure is remarkable.
Former guard John Allen transferred to Western Washington and led them to a Division II national xhampionship in 2012. Shooting guard Patrick Simon left after his sophomore season. DeAngelo Casto prematurely ditched school to pursue a career overseas. Power forward James Watson flunked out before resurfacing last year at Kansas State.
“You look at three guards that will start – they’re all sophomores,” Bone said. “Royce, Davonte (Lacy) and Dexter are all sophomores right now and D.J. (Shelton) has received valuable minutes this year.”
Bone pointed to the next two seasons as evidence that success could come quickly. The Cougars will benefit in 2013-14 from the addition of Jordan Railey, a transfer from Iowa State, and Que Johnson, a touted shooting guard from Westwind Preparatory Academy. Both are redshirting.
Rankich hasn’t referenced either while engaged in a social campaign to steer the WSU basketball program on a decidedly different path, but he did say he admired how Bone handled the Moore situation.
Rankich will regularly banter back and forth with fans during games. He intermittently tweets #KenBoneEffect when the Cougars begin losing.
“I believe we need a coach that has a solid system (a la Tony Bennett) that can be executed with the right talented pieces to be successful,” Rankich said. “It is very clear that WSU will never recruit on the same level as UCLA or Arizona in basketball, but with the right system, success can happen.”