With Eagles enjoying their finest season in 32 years as a member of NCAA Division I, fourth-year EWU head coach shares award with his close friend Brian Katz of Sacramento State
A four-year climb for Jim Hayford and his Eastern Washington University men's basketball program was confirmed with the regular season co-championship in the Big Sky Conference. But the Eagles are hoping to scale one more peak under Hayford, who was selected by the league's head coaches on Tuesday (March 10) as the Coach of the Year.
Hayford, whose team enters the Big Sky Conference Tournament with its most victories in NCAA Division I history with a 23-8 record, shares the honor with Sacramento State's Brian Katz. Just two short seasons ago, Hayford's team was the youngest in NCAA Division I and finished 10-21 overall and 7-13 in the Big Sky. And last season his senior-less squad was edged out by the Hornets for the sixth and final berth in the league tournament when both teams finished 10-10 in Big Sky play.
This week, Eastern enters the tournament as a No. 2 seed and the Hornets are No. 3, with a collective total of 42 wins overall and 27 in the league.
"This is a great honor," said Hayford, who is now 317-146 (.685) in his 15-plus seasons as a collegiate head coach. "What makes it very special is that I am sharing it with one of my best friends and colleagues, Brian Katz. I am also pleased that it shines a light on the great work done by the members of our coaching staff, who are tireless workers. Above all, players win games and our players won enough games that we could be recognized. They earned this award for EWU, my staff and I."
Steve Aggers (1998, 2000) and Ray Giacoletti (2004) have previously won Big Sky Coach of the Year honors for the Eagles since joining the Big Sky Conference in the 1987-88 season. The 2000 and 2004 teams are the only others to win regular season Big Sky titles in school history, and the 2004 squad is the only BSC Tournament winner.
"What a great honor for Jim and his staff," said Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves of a coaching staff that includes Hayford and full-time assistants Shantay Legans, Alex Pribble and David Riley. "They have done a tremendous job of building a program over the past four years, and this honor is a testament to that."
Eastern will be trying to join the 2003-04 EWU squad in advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The 2002-03 team advanced to the NIT for EWU's only other national postseason appearance in 32 seasons as a member of NCAA Division I.
Eastern clinched its third Big Sky regular season title in 28 seasons as a Big Sky member when it rallied from 19 points down to beat Weber State 79-71 in overtime last Saturday (March 7). With a 14-4 league record, Eastern won its most games in 28 seasons as a member of the Big Sky. Eastern's 10-6 record on the road this season was also a program best in the school's NCAA Division I history.
In 10 previous seasons at nearby Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., Hayford was the Northwest Conference Coach of the Year five times, and twice was honored by the National Association of Basketball Coaches as the West Region Coach of the Year.
His second Eagle team in 2012-13 had six freshmen and sophomores who started at least three games each, and the result was a 10-21 record overall and 7-13 league mark to finish eighth. The following season, the Eagles had no seniors and improved to 15-16 overall and 10-10 in the league, but missed the league tournament for the second-straight season.
This year's triumphs have included victories over six different NCAA Division I conferences, including road wins at Indiana, San Francisco and Seattle. Eastern has been ranked as high as 12th in the national mid-major poll, and as high as 50th in the RPI.
Eastern's leading scorers are three underclassmen who have averaged 10.2 points per game, but three seniors have also contributed heavily this season – Parker Kelly, Drew Brandon and Garrett Moon. Kelly, who was part of Hayford's first team in the 2011-12 season, has played in a school-record 122 games.
"There are a lot of families behind our players who believed in the vision," said Hayford. "We weren't selling them success, we were selling them a vision and they trusted their boys to us. I credit them. And my own personal family has made a lot of sacrifices, so my heart is out to Robin, Jayme and Joe for all their support. We'll go to Missoula with a 23-8 record overall and 14-4 in the conference – unbelievable."