Plenty inquire about basketball job, but salary level troubling
Oregon State Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart lamented the salary restrictions that prevented him from chasing top-caliber basketball coaching candidates.
'Well,' Portland State AD Tom Burman says, 'if Mitch thought he was limited, you can imagine the position we're in.'
Burman, searching for Joel Sobotka's replacement, hopes to have 'two to four' finalists in town next week for interviews. Among the emerging prospects from the national search are top assistants from three recent NCAA Tournament teams: Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh; Jim Shaw, Oklahoma; and Heath Schroyer, Wyoming.
Burman says money probably will be an issue. The PSU athletic department has been losing money, and Burman can't offer anything close to the $225,000 that new OSU coach Jay John will make.
Portland State football coach Tim Walsh 'is making $113,000, and the new basketball coach would make less than that,' Burman says.
PSU isn't done negotiating its buyout of Sobotka, who resigned last week with one year left on a three-year contract. Sobotka compiled a 53-59 record and had three trips to the Big Sky Conference tourney.
Consecutive losing seasons (9-18 and 12-16), along with the departure of two key players from this year's team and 15 for various reasons in four years, helped seal his fate.
Burman had been under mounting public pressure to either fire Sobotka or force him to resign.
'We needed to make a change,' Burman says. 'Our men's basketball team should be in the top half of the conference and compete for the championship.'
A committee of five PSU administrators has been interviewing candidates by phone this week. The school got more than 60 inquiries about the job, with Burman considering four or five on his 'A list.'
Five of eight Big Sky coaches are on one-year contracts, while PSU's new coach will be offered three years, Burman says.
Burman hopes that point guard Aaron Fitzgerald and forward Seamus Boxley will reconsider their decisions to transfer.
Boxley, a junior-to-be, says he will stay at Portland State if he likes the new coach. The Vikings cleared Boxley to talk with other schools, and he has put out feelers to Western Athletic Conference and West Coast Conference teams.
Boxley says he had to play power forward and post under Sobotka and wasn't allowed to expand or develop his game.
'I was playing against bigger guys in the post, and I wanted to be able to take them out and face the basket,' Boxley says. 'It was tough on the body, when you're not used to playing the '5.' I was recruited to play '3' and '4.' I wanted to expand my game, but if I had an open look, I was discouraged to shoot.'
In short, the 6-7, 210-pound Boxley wanted to inherit the role played by the graduated Anthony Lackey, but Sobotka had tabbed recruit Marshal Hartman and redshirt Ben Coffee as the players who would get the shots next season.
Fitzgerald says he probably will move on; his AAU coach has been making calls to Division I teams, including WCC schools, in California. Fitzgerald started part of last season but played only 10 minutes to 15 minutes per game in February, which bothered him.
Boxley and Fitzgerald each would have to sit out a year under NCAA transfer rules. Fitzgerald says, 'That'll be good for me to get bigger and smarter.'
Fitzgerald says he never grew to like the Portland State commuter campus lifestyle. Plus, he says, Sobotka wanted him to play a 'true point guard' role, and players lost confidence in their coach.
'We started to lose, and he got worried and switched everything up,' Fitzgerald says. 'I liked his coaching style, but he switched it up so many times. When I was recruited, he said 'fast and up-tempo' and I could score from the point.'
So, he adds, 'I pretty much saw no future here.'
NOTES: Sobotka elects not to talk about his two former players, or his parting from PSU, which he calls 'a mutual thing.' No question, Sobotka Ñ an assistant for two years under Ritchie McKay before becoming head coach Ñ would have chosen to stay. He wanted to continue coaching players such as Hartman, Coffee, Troy DeVries, Billy Feeney and Jeb Ivey. He talks about the 'loyalty' he showed PSU, and how he and McKay helped reinstitute the program six years ago after 15 years of dormancy. 'I really want to focus on what's next,' says Sobotka, who doesn't have another job lined up. 'I have some great memories. I've learned a lot, including the last (week). Being 31, I've got some amazing experience.'