Never, ever truly believe the stuff a columnist writes about it until it actually happens, but let’s consider an interesting item lurking in the latest column from John Canzano in the Portland Oregonian, which questions Oregon hoops coach Ernie Kent’s leadership (not long after he made an Elite Eight run in the tourney last year — how soon we forget.) Now, this is set up in a press conference where Kent essentially put all of the fault of blowing a 10-point lead at UCLA on Saturday on his players.
That’s significant today, because there was a small, important faction of Ducks Athletic Fund donors who watched Saturday’s game, mildly rooting against their favorite team. A few of them were inside Pauley Pavilion, and even as they would have cheered an Oregon victory, they left with the comfort that a loss might somehow eventually lead to better days.
They didn’t root against an upset because they want Oregon (15-12 with three Pacific-10 Conference games and the conference tournament left) to miss the NCAA Tournament, but because they knew beating UCLA in Westwood had the potential to inhibit the future.
What is that future? Kent got an extension after the Eight appearance, but the buyout is reduced to $1 million and the Ducks have a $200 million arena possibly coming to Eugene — if the Ducks miss the tourney completely, that kind of drop can get a coach canned.
And the negotiation win left open the possibility that Oregon could fire Kent if he misses the NCAA Touranament, then attempt to lure Mark Few, Kilkenny’s pal, from Gonzaga with a life-altering financial package, a new arena and the opportunity to coach in the best basketball conference in the country.
Hmmm. Kent isn’t helping himself with a 6-9 conference record, but looking to ax the coach one season removed from an Elite Eight trip seems, well, hasty and ill-conceived at the very least. Why even print the scenario where he can be canned and put it out there? Someone wants it there, and Kent, despite the recent success, is not the person certain folks in Eugene want around.