By Ryan Divish
Disappointment, disillusion, disenchantment are definitely applicable words. Frustration, forgettable and failure are a few favorites. Mediocre, mistake and meandering may make my point. Unmemorable, unproductive and unsatisfying are also usable.
Yep, I emptied the dictionary out for this one. I guess I could peruse the S section of my dictionary to find some more relevant words to describe the tenure of Pat Kennedy as the head basketball coach at the University of Montana. But then again, that would take longer than Kennedy's entire tenure in Missoula.
On Monday, Kennedy announced that after much speculation, he was taking the vacant head coaching job at Towson University in Maryland. And suddenly, the Grizzly basketball program was looking for its third coach in four seasons.
Personally, I don't care that Kennedy has left UM. His time with the Grizzlies can all be summed up with the 12 words at the top of this column and about a 100 more from my dog-earred copy of the "The American Heritage Dictionary."
Need another word? How about unfulfilled? As in expectations. It was just two years ago that a slight uproar exploded in Missoula as then-Athletics Director Wayne Hogan decided to fire then-head coach Don Holst just two weeks after the Griz had played Oregon in the NCAA tournament. Rumors that Hogan felt the program was too inbred with disciple coaches from the Jud Heathcoate era floated throughout the Bitterroot Valley.
Hogan defended his decision with a lavish sales pitch of midmajor success. He talked of Montana becoming the next Gonzaga and guaranteed that his old friend and colleague at Florida State, Pat Kennedy, would be the man to lead UM to that level.
"No matter what people think of me, of President (George) Dennison, of my decision here recently, they're going to have a very hard time not liking Pat Kennedy, because Pat is the real deal," Hogan said when he announced Kennedy's hiring. "He is an outgoing, friendly, personable, basketball machine. He'll be all over this community."
Sure, Kennedy was likable to most who met him. But likability doesn't translate into success. Still, Hogan was firm in belief.
The main reason Hogan believed that Kennedy would lift the program to new heights was his ability to recruit.
In his stints at Florida State and DePaul, Kennedy signed future NBA players Sam Cassell, Bob Sura, Charlie Ward, Douglas Edwards, Quentin Richardson, Bobby Simmons and Stephen Hunter.
"I can't say enough about the national acclaim that this is going to bring to our program," Hogan said. "This really gives us a good start in terms of opening doors that may have not previously been open to us, and specifically I'm speaking about opportunities to recruit high-caliber and high-quality athletes to combine with the kids that are in the program and will ... still be the backbone to our program."
And recruit he did. Kennedy brought in high-profile transfers Roy Booker, Kamarr Davis, Steve Horne and former Stevensville standout John Seyfert during his two years.
With all that talent, surely success had to follow. But it didn't. Instead, another word could best sum up the result - inconsistency.
Playing a rough nonconference schedule, the Griz lost more games than ever before. Under Kennedy, UM was 23-35 overall, 13-15 in Big Sky Conference games, in his two seasons. It was the first time the program had recorded back-to-back losing seasons in more than 30 years. The Griz were eliminated in the first round of the league's postseason tournament in each of Kennedy's two seasons. Not exactly Gonzaga-esque numbers.
Sure, there were some great moments during the run. There was the upset win over Stanford in the first season, and a late run at the end of this past season to qualify for the Big Sky Conference tournament. But the highs points were far outnumbered by the lows.
Part of the problem was team cohesion. It looked like there were five strangers on the floor playing for the first time. Other times it didn't look like UM ran an offense, instead employing the strategy of the first person with the ball past half court got to shoot it.
For all of his renown as a recruiter, Kennedy was also a little infamous and iffy as a bench coach. In other words, he could assemble the talent, but couldn't coach it once he got it. He won games based on superior talent alone.
That didn't work at Montana because the talent he was bringing in wasn't Quentin Richardson or another player destined for the NBA.
Now Kennedy is gone amid persistent rumors of his departure following the unceremonious resignation of his friend and boss, Hogan. But even in his exodus, Kennedy displayed the same frightening inconsistency that marked his program.
Over a month ago, he indicated to his players that the possibility of his leaving was just wild speculation and impossible. Even a week ago, after ESPN's Andy Katz, a person who doesn't get stories wrong, reported that Kennedy was considering the Towson job, Kennedy told the Great Falls Tribune on Friday, April 28 that he had no interest in the job and was not a candidate. Yet on the very same day, he also told the Baltimore Sun that he was a candidate for the job.
That alone should have prompted UM to start looking for a replacement for Kennedy. If the guy doesn't want to be at UM, then it's time to find someone who does. He was Eastern coach, who never embraced the West. The Montana job was just a springboard back to a job in the East. And Montana doesn't need that. The Griz need someone in for the long haul.
Namely, someone who is familiar with the program, the school, the city of Missoula and the state of Montana. Someone from that so-called inbred success. Someone who remembers "The Zoo," a blazing-fast Michael Ray Richardson streaking up the court, a moppy-headed Larry Krystkowiak fighting for every rebound and every loose ball, someone who remembers when the Adams Center used to be at capacity with basketball-crazed fans.
Someone like Holst, like Blaine Taylor before him, like Mike Montgomery before him and Heathcoate before him.
The school must make a return to its roots of basketball success and the proposed candidates of Krystkowiak and current assistant Wayne Tinkle would be a step in the right direction.
Montana tried it the other way. Hogan was seduced by the lure of instant success with a big-name coach who could bring in big-time players, which would lead to even bigger success. The result is a big-time failure.
I don't even need to use my dictionary to describe Kennedy's legacy at Montana. It sits right at the tip of my tongue.