WALLA WALLA — You would have been forgiven for simply assuming Bill Moos and Ernie Kent were longtime friends.
The duo did spend 10 years working together at their last stop at Oregon, but their trip to Walla Walla on Tuesday focused more on the future than the past.
“Not unlike Mike Leach and myself, we all took a little sabbatical there and recharged our batteries,” Moos said referencing Kent, who just spent four years away from coaching. “I would suggest that for everybody because here we are back in the game and excited about things. Really I see some great things in our future sooner than later.”
The two longtime friends, who teamed up at Oregon in 1997, have a certain rapport about them.
That much was obvious as the two worked a room of about 100 Cougar alumni and fans at Sapolil Cellars.
Kent, at age 59 mind you, moved through the crowd like a man possessed. With a vibrant smile and a big mitt eager to shake hands with anyone who would put a hand out, the new WSU men’s basketball coach made one thing abundantly clear — he’s raring to go.
“The thing I’m most impressed with is the campus is flat-out beautiful,” Kent said. “To be able to get around and see it now and understand it — we will not have a problem at all selling WSU. It’ll be an exciting sell because you can be very passionate about it.”
Moos, on the other hand, is entering his fifth year as WSU’s athletic director. And although he doesn’t sport a bellowing voice like Kent’s, Moos’ measured words to the crowd left everyone hungry for more.
The story of how he courted Kent seemed almost too simple in today’s culture.
“When I hired him a few months ago, I said, ‘you know Ernie, we did this at your alma mater together, now it’s time to do it at mine,’” Moos said. “He lit up and away we go.”
Their past relationship made the deal easy, Kent said.
“Having so much success with him before, that was a no-brainer to come back to work for him again,” Kent said. “When you sit and talk with somebody and you talk about a job and you talk about a contract and you deal with agents, you don’t deal with lawyers, you give them a handshake and a hug — that tells you about the relationship we have.”
Their work at Kent’s alma mater — Oregon — speaks for itself.
After Moos hired Kent to take over the Ducks’ basketball program in 1997, Kent compiled a 235-173 record and five NCAA tournament appearances in his 13 years. He also led the Ducks to two Elite Eight appearances and his 109 conference wins rank him 17th in Pac-12 history.
“That was his alma mater — he was a star player there in the mid-70s, so I watched him and saw what he could do,” Moos said. “He’s a marvelous recruiter and a tremendous mentor and developer of young men — not just on the basketball court but just preparing them for corporate America and representing the institution properly.”
When Oregon dismissed him in 2010, Kent stayed busy with basketball by working as a commentator for the Pac-12 Network, but it’s pretty obvious Kent’s heart still resides on the sideline.
“It’s been hectic, but having gone through it before, it’s been everything I’ve expected it to be,” he said. “Just in terms of getting a job late, getting into your recruiting, scrambling to find players, really using your contacts and your connections to find those players. You have the sense that you’re going to bring something to WSU, but it’s been a pleasant surprise how good Pullman and WSU has been for me.”
As for Moos, Tuesday’s visit cemented that his vision for WSU athletics is beginning to come to fruition.
When he arrived in 2010, Moos inherited a football team that had finished 2-10 and a basketball program undergoing a coaching transition. From those days to now, Moos’ impact has been tenfold.
He developed the Cougar Athletic Fund as a way to increase fundraising and watched as his project took off. This year, Moos welcomed the largest donor base and the most money ever raised in school history.
By raising more money, Moos was also able to get to work on the Cougar Football Project, which just unveiled the new Cougar Football Complex earlier this month. The nearly 85,000-square foot, five-story building — or mecca that is — dedicated solely to athletics features a state-of-the-art locker room, weight room, restaurant and medical facilities.
And Moos wasn’t exactly tongue-in-cheek when comparing WSU’s newest facility to others like it across the nation.
“I’ll be so brave as to say I don’t think there’s a finer facility in the country,” Moos said. “We purposely traveled and toured through the best ones at the time and cherry-picked the best features of all of those. It’s great to see it come to fruition. Our players are beside themselves. Coaches are excited. It just complements Martin Stadium so beautifully.”
Coupled with Martin Stadium’s recent renovations, which added luxury seating and a new press box to the Southside of the stadium, Moos and the rest of Cougar nation is giddy about the Cougs’ future.
“After it was approved and we got it designed, just showing our recruits the renderings and the floor plans, it already helped us in our last two recruiting classes,” Moos said. “Now that they can actually see it and go into it, it’s going to be tremendous for us in regards to attracting top talent. And then once we have them, developing them to their full potential.”
Ultimately, Moos understands the product on the field will be the biggest barometer for attracting fans.
But with coaches like Kent and Leach, and facilities like the one he just opened, the future has never been brighter for Cougar athletics — and Moos may be the biggest reason for that.
“We need to have Eastern Washington,” Moos said. “We realize Seattle and Western Washington is a stretch for season tickets, so we have to have Spokane, we have to have the Tri-Cities, Yakima and of course, Walla Walla. With the improvement of the product on the field, it’s going to be the place people want to be on game day.”