After guiding the University of San Francisco men’s basketball team to an unprecedented 63 wins in his first three seasons at the helm, head coach Kyle Smith is reportedly heading to Washington State, according to Jon Rothstein of Sports Illustrated.
On Friday, Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson stumped publically for Smith’s hiring at his alma mater. One day later, Smith was interviewing with the Cougars, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Shortly thereafter, he was offered the job.
“Kyle at USF is doing a great job,” Thompson said after shootaround last Thursday. “I recommend him for an interview. Every program he’s been at, he’s turned around. USF was really good this year, and they beat some Pac-10 schools. I think he’d be a great candidate.”
Smith, 49, had begun to build something special with the Dons, winning 20 games in each of his first three seasons — a feat no other San Francisco head coach had ever accomplished — and notching back-to-back 20-win seasons with the Dons for the first time since 1975-76 through 1981-82.
Smith went 63-40, reached the CBI in his first season with the Dons and then reached the CBI title series in 2017-18, but after becoming a fixture in the at-large bid conversation for the NCAA Tournament throughout 2018-19, his team lost its final four games of the season, including an unexpected quarterfinal defeat in the West Coast Conference Tournament.
Having defeated eventual Tournament champion St. Mary’s, as well as Pac-12 programs Cal and Stanford, then taken a lead at home against Gonzaga — then the No. 5 team in the nation — with 3:50 to go in their Jan. 12 game, Smith’s Dons were in the discussion for their first NCAA Tournament bid in 21 years. When their late-season swoon ended that possibility, San Francisco resolved that it would take no less than a bid to the National Invitational Tournament. That did not come, and the Dons did not participate in the postseason.
Smith came to San Francisco after going 101-82 in six years at Columbia, leading the team to a CIT Championship over UC Irvine in his final season. Before that, he was Randy Bennett’s top assistant for 10 years as he built the Gaels into a mid-major power in Moraga.
In heading to Pullman, Smith would be replacing Ernie Kent, who was fired after going 58-98 over five seasons. Kent reportedly made $1.4 million, more than twice what it’s estimated Smith makes at San Francisco.
The Dons’ search for Smith’s replacement could wind up finding an internal candidate. That would likely be associate head coach Todd Golden. A former standout with St. Mary’s when Smith was a coach there. Prior to that job, which includes duties as defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator, Golden served as the director of basketball operations at Auburn and was an assistant coach with the Tigers, handling their guards and scheduling, as well as analytics.
Before Auburn, Golden spent the 2013-14 season as an assistant coach on Smith’s staff at Columbia, where he helped the Lions to a 21-13 mark and a spot in the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament. He also served as director of basketball operations for the Lions during the 2012-13 season.
The captain of St. Mary’s 2007-08 team, Golden finished his career as the Gaels all-time leader in free throw percentage (.852) and eighth with 269 career assists.