WSU fires Graham
Men's coach axed after four seasons, 31-79 recordPosted: Monday March 10, 2003 5:56 PM
Updated: Monday March 10, 2003 8:21 PM
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- Paul Graham has been fired as basketball coach at Washington State after a season in which the Cougars went 7-20 and won only two conference games.
Athletic director Jim Sterk said Monday he met with Graham last Tuesday and the coach was dismissed then. Graham told his players after the UCLA game in Los Angeles on Thursday, Sterk said. Graham had a year left on a five-year contract.
During his four seasons at the school, Graham had an overall record of 31-79 and a 9-63 mark in the Pacific-10. Washington State this season had a 30-year low in victories and the second-lowest average attendance in that period.
Graham, whose Pac-10 record this season was 2-16, said he felt he was leaving the program in better shape than when he took over four years ago.
"I had a great opportunity. It just didn't work out," he said. "The thing I'm proudest of is that our kids never quit. I'm just glad I was able to fulfill my dream of being a Division 1 head coach."
Sterk said he hopes to hire a replacement no later than the NCAA Final Four games later this month.
He said he plans to hire someone "that is a great fit," preferably someone who has head coaching experience. Connections to the Northwest won't be mandatory, but will be considered a plus, he said.
Sterk said he will consult with previous winning coaches at WSU, such as George Raveling, Kelvin Sampson and others, before making his decision.
WSU President V. Lane Rawlins approved the firing, Sterk said.
"We think someone can come in and build upon what has been done in the past, and the players that we have here," Sterk said. "We have the opportunity for success in men's basketball. We have shown it in our other sports. ... We want men's basketball ... to be competitive in the Pac-10 and to be competitive nationally."
Graham, who turns 52 on Tuesday, signed his five-year contract in March 1999. Sterk said it will cost about $130,000 to buy Graham out of the last season.
Sterk said he has not talked to any coaches about the job, but has received calls from interested people.
"I'm going to look for a person that has a desire to be at Washington State University, someone who understands the culture, who understands the Northwest," Sterk said.
Graham's assistants, Randall Dickey, Chris Croft and Jeremy Eggers, have contracts that expire June 1, Sterk said. It will be up to the new coach to hire assistants, he said.
Sterk is considered likely to look at replacements with close ties to WSU, such as Eastern Washington coach Ray Giacoletti and Don Newman, a former WSU assistant who is now a Milwaukee Bucks assistant.
Graham was hired to halt a three-year skid under former coach Kevin Eastman.
But the skid continued. The average of 2,310 who watched games this season was second-lowest in Friel Court's 30-year history and only slightly higher than last year's 2,292 average.
The Cougars' season-ending 86-68 loss at USC on Saturday gave WSU back-to-back 20-loss seasons for the first time since the first two years of George Raveling's tenure from 1972-74.
Graham was hired by former athletic director Rick Dickson after serving seven years as an assistant at Oklahoma State.
During his tenure, 10 players left the program before completing their eligibility, some complaining about Graham's abrasive style.
This season, WSU jumped out to a 5-4 nonconference record, but injuries to key players, including junior Marcus Moore, forced Graham to employ 10 different starting lineups.
"It was sad because it was an end to what we were going through," Moore said of Graham's firing. "He held his head high, so we held our heads high."
Teammate Chris Schlatter said Graham should not be seen as a scapegoat.
"I don't think it's fair to point fingers at coach Graham, because we're the ones playing the game," he said.
Asked how long it would take to turn the men's basketball
program around, Sterk said it would be "sooner rather than