AD Cleary: Portland State just needs to win more
The thinking behind the firing of Portland State Tyler Geving on Wednesday boiled to down to another word that starts with the letter "w" — wins.
Geving spent 12 years with the Vikings, four as an assistant coach and the past eight as head coach. As the head man, he compiled a win-loss record of 112-133. The Viks were 15-16 this season and tied for eighth in the Big Sky.
"We just felt we got to that point where we weren't seeing the advances we needed to see with a team that was pretty talented. So we had to make the hard decision," PSU athletic director Val Cleary said.
Geving had two years left on his contract, and "at a place like Portland State, where we're really cognizant of the budget with any staffing changes, that is a factor, but we were able to figure a way out for this," Cleary said.
The coaching change was even more necessary now, she said, because the Vikings are anticipating their move into the new and larger Viking Pavilion for the 2018-19 season. Next season, PSU will play its home games at an undetermined location(s) in the Portland area.
"We'd be remiss to not have this tied to the arena," Cleary said of the coaching change. "We want to be able to set a new coach up for success, to give time to recruit and be able to determine their style."
Cleary, who took over as AD in January after Marc Rountree left for an assistant AD job at Georgia Tech, said she had "some conversations" with Geving that month about the program.
She said the quality of the Vikings roster, the caliber of recruits and the off-court status of the players, notably in their academics, weren't issues of concern.
"Our kids are really talented," she said. "They are great kids."
Portland State lost numerous close games, including six by three points or less, this season. The Vikings were 0-5 in overtime, too.
"Sometimes the ball just doesn't fall in your basket the way you want it to," Cleary said.
And sometimes you just have to find a way to win more of those games.
"It comes down to the program the coaches are running — how can you close the gap on those close games?" Cleary said.
In their final game, the Viks were 23-point losers to eventual conference tourney champion and No. 1 seed North Dakota -- so there is the upper gap to close.
Cleary said she expects to find a lot of coaches interested in doing that, and has received inquiries already.
"It's a unique opportunity," she said of the PSU vacancy. "The city of Portland is so attractive, and we're going into a new arena with a new fan experience."
Asked if PSU could offer an increased salary for the job, Cleary said "we're still working on that."
Even so, she said she'd hope to hire a coach who "has a proven history of being competitive, ideally at this level and with similar resources — it's no secret Portland State isn't a Power Five school, so sometimes you have to do more with less."
She frowned on hiring a high school coach.
"I would prefer to have someone with NCAA Division I or II experience, just because of compliance and recruiting rules" to work with, she said.
Geving relied on mutiple junior-college transfers from other parts of the country, or beyond.
"It's always nice to have a mix to have that consistency — the hard thing with having a lot of JC transfers is you only get them for two or three years," Cleary said. "We have some great high school students coming in. It's always better to have them here for their entire career."
PSU, under Geving, had signed four players to join the Vikings next season:
5-8 guard Elijah Gonzales, who just led Clackamas High to second place in the Class 6A tournament; 6-0 guard
Holland Woods, from Apollo High in Phoenix; 6-2 guard Aaron Ray, a JC transfer from Middletown, New York and Garden City (Kansas) Community College who will be a junior; and 6-6 guard/forward Narcisse Kalamba, also a junior-to-be coming from Hill (Texas) JC and originally from Montreal.
Cleary said she doesn't expect that Geving's successor will be limited to recruiting just players from the Northwest or even from the West Coast.
"Portland attracts students from all over the nation, so I don't think we're definite by a certain region," she said.
What will be the expectations for the new coach in terms of wins or advancement?
"At this point, I don't have any of those benchmarks, but we want our teams to always be in contention for a conference championship," Cleary said.
That may not be "fair to say that right out of the gate" for the 2016-17 men's basketball season, she added, especially given the Vikings won't be on their true home floor for games, although they will continue to practice at Stott Center.
The season remaining before basketball starts in the Viking Pavilion is a bonus, she said.
"I really look at it as an advantage for the next head coach," Cleary said. "It will take some of the pressure off, to have that year of building the program before we have all the glitz and glamour of the new building."
Cleary said it will be her and a "small group" of her staff, "key people on campus and folks outside campus who have interest in the program" who will work on finding the next men's coach.
She is scheduled to be at the Final Four, April 1-3, in Glendale, Arizona. A lot of coaching hires and talk gets done during the NCAA Tournament and at the Final Four.
"But you never know, sometimes it's ideal to have someone identified before then, so they can be working there on hiring staff," Cleary said. "We want to move quickly."
In the meantime, one of Geving's assistants — Jase Coburn — will stay on for player personnel management, Cleary said.
While the men's program stayed in the middle of the Big Sky pack, the Vikings' women's program moved up to at least that level this season, in coach Lynn Kennedy's second year at the helm.
The PSU women improved from 4-26 (tied for 10th in the Big Sky) in 2016-17 to 16-17 (seventh), and reached the conference tournament semifinals, going one round beyond the PSU men. The Viking women had four freshmen and seven sophomores.
"Coach Kennedy has done a really, really good job of buiding that program really quickly, recruiting great talent and running a great program," Cleary said.
Is it harder to do that and compete in the Big Sky in men's basketball?
"I think that's debatable," Cleary said. "I don't think it is."