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Oregon has to hold on to Ernie Kent

On College Hoops
by: Lisa Blumenfeld, Duck coach Ernie Kent took his basketball team to the Elite Eight in this year’s NCAA tournament. His future has yet to be firmed up.

With thoughts of Bryce Taylor's grace, Malik Hairston's craftiness, Maarty Leunen's toughness and Tajuan Porter's rainbow 3-pointers still dancing in my head, I can't believe I'm writing about their head coach.

Can't believe I had to ask the new athletic director whether he wanted Ernie Kent back.

Can't believe I had to be the one who relayed Pat Kilkenny's answer - 'Oh, yeah …' -to the coach after the Elite Eight game in St. Louis.

Kent acted surprised and then broke down in tears while sharing his gratitude toward outgoing Athletic Director Bill Moos, who stuck with Kent and his players when many wanted him canned.

It borders on laughable that factions of Duckdom want to push out Kent. To me, it's the ugly side of sports.

Kent did his job. He guided the Ducks to 29 wins. A tireless worker, he vowed that with maturity the Ducks would be better after the past two seasons, when they won 29 games total. It happened, folks. Kilkenny would be crazy not to talk contract extension with him.

We're not talking about a lifetime commitment. We're talking about two more years, making it the industry standard five-year deal. Make them option years. Put in a morality clause, if you think Kent is such an evil man.

Not extending Kent would be the strongest signal to any potential future recruit: He's our coach, but he's not going to stay.

Players want to know how they fit in. Parents are smart - their kid isn't going to Oregon with the coach's job security in question.

I've shared my criticisms of Big Ern in the past. Can't recruit or coach good big men, and doesn't run a post offense. Lets guys shoot too many 3-pointers. Shaky game strategy - Xs and Os - at times.

I always saw Kent as a bit disingenuous, a spinmaster and too controlling - exhibiting the kind of personality that could rub people (including boosters) the wrong way.

The thing is, he changed this year. Taylor called him more 'approachable,' and Leunen says, 'at times, he's just one of the guys.'

Losing and controversy seemed to humble Kent, make him more likable. He has an enthusiasm that people should admire.

In a sport replete with coaches who get their jollies from putting their stamp on the game, Kent essentially rolls out the ball and lets his players play. He gets it. 'There's method to our madness,' he says, but his guys get to run and gun -as long as they'll also defend and play as teammates.

It's their game, not his. It's a little European, a little Phoenix Suns.

OK, but what about the previous two seasons, you ask?

First of all, Kent overhyped his talent. Second, you can't discount the loss of Ian Crosswhite, an experienced center whose UO career went up in smoke two months into the 2004-05 season.

Third, Kent recruited Ivan Johnson before last season, hoping to make him a dominating inside force to complement Aaron Brooks, Taylor and Hairston. However, it became apparent that Johnson possessed an NBA body and a Division II head.

And how many more games would the Ducks have won had Jordan Kent, the coach's son and maybe the most exemplary student-athlete I've ever seen, played this season rather than train for a shot at the NFL? His hustle and athleticism surely would have meant something during Oregon's stretch of six losses in eight games.

OK, but Kent couldn't land Kevin Love or Kyle Singler.

In the case of Love: A lot of flak, some generated by the parent of one UO player, was thrown around to discredit Kent, and the Loves (see: father, ex-UO player Stan Love) paid attention to it all.

A sneaker war, involving UO's big brother Nike Inc., has been raging around Love behind the scenes for some time. Love wasn't the first Oregon prep star to leave the state - the trend stretches back to Richard Washington in the 1970s -and he won't be the last. And UCLA has the slightly better track record and bigger national reputation. Pretty stiff competition. More limelight. Same thing with Duke and Singler.

Laugh you might, but neither Love nor Singler considered Oregon State - and Singler has OSU family ties - or strongly looked at other Northwest schools. And maybe Love (and Singler) just wanted to get away from home.

OK, but Kent messed up his personal life, right?

Moos' people investigated Kent's rumored misconduct as a university representative, and found nothing. Two newspapers executed Freedom of Information Act searches, and found nothing. If he had indiscretions, forgive him, Christians, it's what you do. Look in the mirror and understand your own imperfections, people.

OK, but some of Kent's teams have underperformed?

Get some perspective. Kent has produced unlike any UO coach of the past 50 years. He has a .617 winning percentage and four 20-win seasons. He's coached four NCAA Tournament teams, including two that took fans on Elite Eight thrill rides.

The other five UO coaches in the past 50 years had win percentages of .459 (Steve Belko), .577 (Dick Harter), .392 (Jim Haney), .444 (Don Monson) and .507 (Jerry Green). Since World War II, only one UO team other than Kent's has won 20 games in one season; Harter's 1974-75 squad, which Kent played on, was 21-9.

By the way, Oregon State's Ralph Miller had a 3-9 record in NCAA games, with only one regional final appearance.

When one sports radio jock proclaimed this week that Oregon should be knocking on the door of the Final Four three out of every four years, I just about sprayed nonfat latte on my windshield. Yeah, and the rest of the Pac-10 wouldn't have any say in it? It ain't easy to sustain - just ask UO football coach Mike Bellotti, he of two 7-6 seasons and one 5-6 record in recent years.

OK, but can Oregon raise money for its new arena with Kent as coach?

Well, the Ducks and their donors can spend their money any way they want, as long as they remain self-sufficient - operating without state funds.

If Kilkenny and his cohorts insist that the arena plan will go forward only if the team has a new coach, consider this: It'll be a university building, it'll be good for the U of O, and it'll be there a long time after all of you and Kent, 52, have departed.

Be self-sufficient, not self-indulgent. Keep an Oregon guy.

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