Cal made a surprising coaching hire on Friday that hints at some of the financial issues facing its athletic department.
The Bears promoted assistant Wyking Jones to head coach just nine days after Cuonzo Martin resigned to take over at Missouri.
A school typically promotes an assistant from the previous head coach’s staff when its program is thriving, but Cal has no incentive to retain its current roster and maintain continuity. Not only did the underachieving Bears fall in the first round of the NIT this season, they also graduate five rotation players and will lose sophomore Ivan Rabb to the NBA draft.
Jones has no previous head coaching experience, but he does have an impressive history of mining the West Coast for talent as an assistant. The Inglewood, Calif., native was a member of Rick Pitino’s staff when Louisville won the 2013 national title and helped assemble Steve Alford’s best New Mexico teams prior to that.
What may have contributed to Cal’s decision to hire Jones was that it could not afford some of the higher-profile candidates it coveted. Bloomberg News reported earlier this year that Cal’s athletic department is considering slashing its budget or cutting certain teams altogether after operating at a $22 million deficit last year.
Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett reportedly pulled out of the running for the Cal job earlier this week, opting instead to remain the head coach of the Gaels. Eric Musselman also backed out to sign an extension at Nevada, though his candidacy at Cal likely would have been hurt by the presence of former Bears assistant Yann Hufnagel on his staff.
As a result, Cal turned to Jones, a little-known candidate unlikely to inspire deep-pocketed alumni to donate much money to the cash-strapped department. That could change if Jones enjoys immediate success, but that won’t be easy as next year’s team rebuilds around Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee and sophomore-to-be Charlie Moore.
With its athletic department facing massive debt and its basketball program likely headed for a rebuilding season, Cal sorely needed a splashy hire to rejuvenate its fan base.
Didn’t happen, so now the Bears can only hope that Jones turns out to be a pleasant surprise.
– – – – – – –