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Originally published February 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 13, 2007 at 11:31 AM

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For Monson, no curing the bug to coach again

Dan Monson has spent the past couple of weeks hanging with old coaching adversaries — Steve Alford at Iowa, Kelvin Sampson at Indiana...

Seattle Times college basketball reporter

 

Dan Monson has spent the past couple of weeks hanging with old coaching adversaries — Steve Alford at Iowa, Kelvin Sampson at Indiana, Tom Izzo at Michigan State.

"Like I told Kelvin, maybe coaching is different," Monson says. "You realize what you miss — you've always been part of a team."

Monson was ousted seven games into his eighth season as Minnesota basketball coach. For six weeks, his team consisted of his wife Darci and four young children.

"Yesterday was virtually the first day I haven't been with my kids," Monson joked last week. "I'm every mom's favorite at the bus stop in the mornings. I take the other one to preschool and go work out and pick 'em up."

He emerged from that cocoon to take visits to Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State — chicken soup for a coach's soul.

"It's been 20 years since I've been to anybody's college practice, because you're doing your own," Monson said.

It reinforced what he already knew: He needs to get back into coaching, preferably at the end of this season, notwithstanding his $1.3 million buyout package from Minnesota.

"I've got to [coach]," Monson said. "A: It's the only thing I know how to do; and B: I think I'm good at it."

It's doubtful Monson, the ex-Gonzaga coach, spent any of that soul search pondering Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken." But nobody else's decisions have affected the path of college basketball in our state like his.

Monson coached Gonzaga when the Zags blew up on the national scene with their NCAA final-eight appearance in 1999. That summer, when the Gophers fired Clem Haskins over a cesspool of academic transgressions, Monson eventually bought into the conventional wisdom — Gonzaga couldn't keep it going.

He took the Minnesota job, leaving the Gonzaga keys to Mark Few, but only after tears of angst over the decision.

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The Gophers' rebuild was slow and painful. Three years into it, in the spring of 2002, Washington athletic director Barbara Hedges fired Bob Bender and went seeking a replacement. She coveted Quin Snyder of Missouri, interviewed Few, and couldn't make either of those work.

She then offered the job to Monson, and for several hours, he accepted. Then Gophers officials talked him out of it, leaving Hedges to sigh, throw up her hands and hire Lorenzo Romar — hardly a bad fallback.

Asked if he kicks himself for not taking the Washington job, Monson pauses and says, "That was the right place for me, but the wrong time. I'd only been here three years. I remember telling Barbara, 'I wish this was next year.' I just felt I hadn't done what I told them I'd do here. I hadn't totally cleaned it up, we hadn't gone to the tournament.

"In hindsight, it would have been a great step for me. As Lorenzo has proven out, it can get done there."

Under increasing pressure, Monson got the Gophers to the NCAA tournament in his sixth season in 2005, but they receded to 16-15 last year, and Minnesota abruptly made the change three weeks into this season.

"I was mentally pretty tired," Monson admits. "These couple of months have really helped refresh me."

With all four of his kids' grandparents living in Spokane, including his dad Don, the former Idaho and Oregon coach, Monson would like to migrate west. You have to think he would like to be in the mix for the opening at Santa Clara, which would put him back in the West Coast Conference, where he was a couple of roads ago.

 

Top cop

 

Never underestimate the lengths to which coaches will go to get a little motivational edge. Remember ex-Colorado football coach Gary Barnett, wearing fatigues and eye black in a team meeting to instill a fighting mentality?

With players like Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer, defending national champ Florida wouldn't seem like a candidate to need a lot of button-pushing. Tell that to the Gators, who were sitting in the locker room before a game at Auburn, when coach Billy Donovan strode in, in full policeman's regalia — blue shirt, boots, handcuffs, baton.

In what has become something of a theme for Florida on the road, the idea was to be the spoiler in front of frenzied fans up for a party.

"We just like the mentality of being the bad cops, taking the kegs away, taking everything away and just messing up the party, messing up a good time," Noah told reporters. "Everybody goes home with a sad face. We just go home like nothing happened."

 

Finally, Gael force

 

This is what the Sporting News' college-basketball yearbook said about Iona:

"The Gaels' NCAA tournament team was decimated by graduation, but coach Jeff Ruland has brought in the best recruiting class of his career, which will make it possible for Iona to stay in the conference's upper tier."

Not so much.

Starting five freshmen against Rider the other day because of injuries and academic woes for three players, the Gaels won their first game of the year after 22 losses. They were last among Division I teams to break through.

Ruland, the former Iona star and NBA player, said the streak "was something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy."

 

Not-quite-full Monty

 

Mike Montgomery, the ultra-successful Stanford ex-coach who went on to a two-year, 68-96 stint with the Golden State Warriors, continues to be that free agent that a lot of Western programs covet.

The early gossip was that Oregon was a likely destination for Montgomery, but then Ernie Kent revived the Ducks. With Santa Clara's dismissal of veteran Dick Davey last week, speculation immediately centered on Montgomery, but he quelled it, at least temporarily.

"A lot of guys have left with a bad taste in their mouth," he told the Oakland Tribune. "I don't feel like that. I'm 60-40 against returning. It's not just the Santa Clara job; it's any job."

And what's more ...

• The SEC likes to trumpet the parity in its league, noting that each of its teams has been ranked by AP at least once this decade. By that measure, the most top-heavy major conference is the Big 12, where four teams (Baylor, Colorado, Kansas State and Nebraska) haven't been ranked. In the Pac-10, those have-nots are Oregon State and Arizona State.

• Entering Wednesday night's game with TCU, Nevada-Las Vegas had hit a three-pointer in 655 consecutive games, or every one since the trey was introduced in 1986-87.

Todd Abernethy, the Ole Miss guard who has helped the Rebels to a surprising 15-8 record, is the son of Tom Abernethy, a forward on the Indiana team that was last to go undefeated in 1976.

• Going into Wednesday's game with Oklahoma State, all 13 of Oklahoma's victories had been in double digits.

• Texas A&M guard Acie Law averages 7.4 points in the last five minutes of Big 12 games; opponents average 7.3.

 

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

 

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