It's madness at Long Beach State as Dan Monson heads to NCAA tournament on his way out


Last Monday, Long Beach State announced it would be seeking a new basketball coach.

Five days later, Dan Monson reminded the school it already had one.

In one of the maddest storylines of March, Monson’s team did not go quietly in what was supposed to be his final week on the job.

Losers of five consecutive games, the Beach rolled through the Big West Conference tournament with victories over UC Riverside, UC Irvine and UC Davis. Now, its season will roll on into the NCAA tournament with a coach who is on the way out.

The team’s first-round opponent will be announced Sunday afternoon. What happens if the Beach (21-14) continues to roll like a tidal wave through another week or so?

Monson told The Times that given the circumstances, the season’s end would mark the end of his 17 seasons at the school regardless of what kind of run his team could put together.

“You want to be wanted,” Monson said during a telephone interview while on the bus ride back from the Big West tournament in Henderson, Nev. “It’s like your girlfriend trying to come back because you became a celebrity, and I don’t think that’s fair to my players because I would only do it if they were going to come back and that’s not fair to them with the [transfer] portal and the opportunities they’ve created for themselves.”

After his team’s late-season slide, the winningest coach in Long Beach State history called a meeting with new athletic director Bobby Smitheran for last Monday. Monson said he intended to tell his boss that he would probably resign if the 49ers didn’t play better in the conference tournament because it would mean the program could use a new voice and he could use a new challenge.

Smitheran told the coach that the decision had already been made to replace him, Monson said, and needed to be announced that day. While he disagreed with the timing, Monson appreciated the opportunity to coach the team through the end of the season.

“To their credit, they let me coach,” said Monson, whose contract expires after this season. “A lot of schools wouldn’t let you coach because something like this could happen. But obviously they didn’t think we had a chance to do that and that’s a motivation I used with our kids — they didn’t just quit on me, they quit on you guys; they don’t feel like you can win this tournament, you know? And it’s certainly no hard feelings because the most gratifying thing is to see how my players reacted.”

Smitheran told The Times that he had no regrets given that the announcement allowed the school to celebrate the success of a coach who has won 275 games before the end of the season and it gave players clarity in the program’s direction while also galvanizing them for the conference tournament. It also accelerated a coaching search that he hoped to complete before the Final Four.

“The announcement, while it may create questions for some folks,” Smitheran said, “for me it was really hoping to provide certainty and allow Dan to be celebrated in all his achievements.”

Showing their loyalty to that coach, players planned to gather at Monson’s Los Alamitos home Sunday afternoon for the NCAA tournament selection show rather than on campus.

“A lot of people agreed with the decision and we don’t know who did and who didn’t,” Monson said of being replaced, “but we don’t care because we’re together and it’s made our basketball family tighter.”

This will be Monson’s second appearance in the NCAA tournament with the Beach after reaching the first round in 2012 and losing to New Mexico.

Long Beach State and San Diego State (24-10), which is expected to receive an at-large bid one year after advancing to the championship game, will be the only Southern California schools represented in the NCAA tournament during a season in which UCLA and USC finished with losing records.

Known for ambitious nonconference scheduling and off-color jokes — he once cracked that he favored son Maddox, a walk-on guard, over other players because he was trying to sleep with his mother — Monson, 62, is the son of former Oregon coach Don Monson, who was on hand for his son’s latest triumph Saturday night. Dan got his coaching start under onetime UCLA coach Gene Bartow at Alabama Birmingham in 1986 before becoming an assistant at Gonzaga from 1988-97.

After a promotion to head coach at Gonzaga the following season, he led the Bulldogs to three wins in the 1999 NCAA tournament, starting the school’s run of 26 consecutive appearances in the tournament that have mostly come under Mark Few. Seeking to secure his family’s future, Monson left for Minnesota to rebuild the program after a scandal involving coach Clem Haskins but reached only one NCAA tournament in parts of eight seasons with the Golden Gophers.

Monson replaced Larry Reynolds at Long Beach State in 2007 and reached the National Invitation Tournament four times in addition to his one trip to the NCAA tournament. But the Beach never won a postseason game and finished this season tied for fifth place in the Big West.

In announcing what was termed a mutual separation last week, Smitheran — who had witnessed a Final Four run in his previous stop at San Diego State, where he was executive associate athletics director — intimated that the Beach could do better than it had in recent years. He said Sunday that he expected the team to be in the top third of the Big West standings each year while competing for conference championships.

In a twist of madness, Monson just won a title on his way out the door. Fortunately for all involved, he didn’t sound like someone on the verge of a bitter departure.

“To see your team rally like they have to, to see them emotional and express how much they love their coach, has been worth every penny,” Monson said. “If somebody would have said, ‘You know, at the end of the year you get to go to the NCAA tournament but you’re not going to be able to come back,’ I’d be like, ‘Sign me up.’

“I mean, in our business, going to the NCAA tournament is that special.”



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