We continue our season preview coverage with Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson. This decade got off to a good start for the 49ers: 4 straight winning seasons from 2010-2013, including 3 straight conference titles and 3 straight postseason tourney appearances. The past 5 years have been less kind to the Beach, featuring only 1 winning season, yet last March the administration decided to reward Coach Monson with a 5-year contract because even though the team has not had any NCAA tourney appearances recently, they have more importantly not had any FBI investigations either. HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Coach Monson about his new contract and his scary schedule.
Your father Don was a head coach at Idaho/Oregon: how much influence did he have on your own decision to become a basketball coach after being a football player at Idaho? My dad was my idol growing up and I wanted to be like him. I learned what it is like to be a coach from my dad and I learned how to be a coach from Dan Fitzgerald at Gonzaga.
You were a grad assistant to College Basketball Hall of Fame coach Gene Bartow at UAB: what made him such a great coach, and what was the most important thing that you ever learned from him? The biggest thing I learned was that there are many different ways to be a coach. Gene was a simple coach who was more of a players’ coach: he only had a couple of offensive sets and primarily played man-to-man defense. It was really refreshing because he let his assistants do a lot more work than other head coaches allowed.
In the 1999 Sweet 16 as head coach at Gonzaga, Casey Calvary scored 12 PTS including a tip-in over 2 defenders in the final seconds to clinch a 1-PT win over Florida: did you think that his shot was going in, and where does that game rank among the highlights of your career? I thought that it was going in: I actually thought the shot that he rebounded was going in originally. I told the team to look for a rebound if we missed a shot and that is exactly what he did. It is probably the greatest moment of my career: the only unfortunate thing is that it was my 2nd year as a coach and I thought that it would always be like that!
After leaving Spokane to coach at Minnesota your assistant Mark Few took over as head coach: how many more 30-win seasons/conference titles does he need before we can finally put him in the Hall of Fame? Zero! It is just semantics: it is going to happen eventually because he has earned that. I think he will be known as 1 of the top college coaches ever because he turned a mid-major into a major.
You were 1998 WCC COY and won 3 straight Big West COY awards from 2011-2013: what did it mean to you to receive such outstanding honors? The older you get the more it means to you. I blew it off a bit in 1998 and then had a great season in 1999…but I did not win the award that year so I was taken back a bit. I realized those things do not grow on trees and are not easy to accomplish. I remember when I won a rookie COY award: when the SID told me I thought it was silly because I had never even heard of it!
You lost your leading scorer from last year (Gabe Levin) but you bring back almost everyone else (including 6 seniors): how crucial will all of that experience be to your team’s success this year? We brought in 6 new guys the year before who are now among our top-8. We will definitely miss Gabe but the ties to Gonzaga still run deep: Bryan Alberts transferred here after playing for Coach Few. We need them to take over for Gabe because our conference will be very deep and the best teams have most of their players back as well.
Your team’s 501 turnovers last year were bottom-10 in the nation: can you just verbally tell them to stop turning the ball over or do you have to physically coach them to protect the ball better? I think it is just a mindset: we had a lot of new guys who did not value the ball enough. Some kids try to get away with things they did in high school/junior college but that does not work at this level.
Your typically brutal non-conference schedule includes games against UCLA/ASU/Mississippi State/Oregon State/USC/Stanford: when are you going to just join the Pac-12, and which of these games do you feel will present your biggest test? We always try to challenge ourselves and have had the #1 non-conference schedule several times during my tenure. This year we will try to stay on the West Coast more and keep the travel down (besides the trip to Starkville). I look at UCLA as the hardest test because it is our very 1st game.
You signed a restructured 5-year contract in March after your athletic director commended you for “doing things the right way” over the past 11 years (rather than compromising your integrity in order to win 20+ games every single year): do you think this is the start of a nationwide trend or are you simply at a very special kind of school? I think it is a combination of those 2 things. After the FBI investigation last year the scrutiny on athletic directors has become very intense, but the administration here shares the same values that I do. I have only had a few losing seasons so for them to say that they believed in me was very gratifying. We have a new president/athletic director and it is a rare thing for them not to go out and hire a new coach to make a big splash.
What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? Our program is at the level where every year our goal is to win the Big West regular season/tourney titles and then make a deep run in the NCAA tourney. I have been trying to instill that culture into this team because we do not have a player who has done any of those things at Long Beach State. Fortunately, they are open to the challenge.