Lisa Love did what she had to do.
Firing Rob Evans Friday was easy — one NCAA tournament appearance in eight years already had Evans halfway out the door. All Love did was give him a push.
Now comes the hard part: Finding a coach who can emerge from the quicksand that is the Arizona State basketball program.
Say this for Love, she’s not cowed by ASU’s history, which can be summed up thusly: Three NCAA tournament appearances in 25 years, no Pac-10 titles, empty seats and apathetic hearts.
She believes the program just needs the right person to light the match.
“I have a great belief we can play great basketball,” Love said. . . . “I believe we can do more. I can not believe that with the kind of numbers and muscle ASU can offer we can not rock Wells Fargo Arena in basketball.”
ASU has been the squeak of basketball sneakers to a Perry Como soundtrack. But, hey, a vice president of athletics has to dream big, so the search for Mr. Right begins again. Love said she’s already compiled a list of candidates. There should be one name at the top of the list, separated from all the others. Mike Montgomery. He is the home run hire, the perfect fit, the one coach who would sell tickets, ensure long-term success and come without any baggage (like the Bob-sy twins, Knight and Huggins).
There is the sticky little matter of Montgomery having a job right now, but that will change when the Golden State Warriors fire him following the season — if not sooner.
Love indicated she’d like to hire a coach before the NBA season concludes unless she’s certain “the wait would be worthwhile.”
Well, then, find out.
Call a Montgomery associate. See if he would be interested in the ASU job should the Warriors, as expected, fire him.
Montgomery, 59, is a proven winner at the collegiate level. He had winning seasons 25 of his 26 years at Montana and Stanford, he guided the Cardinal to 12 NCAA tournament appearances, and his Stanford teams finished first or second in the Pac-10 his final eight years there.
He knows the West Coast, he recruits high-character kids and — this will warm your hearts, ASU fans — he was 5-3 against Lute Olson from 2000 to 2004.
The knock against Montgomery was that his Stanford teams didn’t fare as well as they should have in the NCAA tournament.
This is ASU: Just get in the tournament, and they’ll build a statue of him.
Now, Montgomery might have his eyes on bigger game — he reportedly is interested in the Indiana job. But it only costs a few cell phone minutes to see what’s on his mind.
Love’s list undoubtedly will include the names we’ve heard in recent weeks: UNLV coach Lon Kruger, Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon, Wichita State’s Mark Turgeon.
Whoever replaces Evans will have to deal with the ancillary issues that bedeviled both he and Bill Frieder: Institutional apathy (the team often has to practice at the student recreation center because it doesn’t have a practice facility); poor fan support; a dearth of blue-chip high school players in Arizona; and, of course, Olson.
That’s not to say the ASU job is a bottomless pit. But it will take a special coach to fulfill Love’s ambitious vision.
Montgomery is that coach.