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The Cardinal finally gets it right

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Look what we have here, folks: Stanford finally got it right.

After two sketchy hires and a string of management mistakes, the Cardinal made a shrewd move Monday and charged Kyle Smith with resuscitating its dormant men’s basketball program following the dismissal of Jerod Haase.

Smith was the obvious choice after guiding Washington State to second place in the Pac-12, for which he was named Coach of the Year, and into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Given that the announcement came approximately 36 hours after the Cougars were eliminated by Iowa State, it’s reasonable to conclude the Cardinal had an offer in place for several days and that Smith’s interest in the position was sincere despite the daunting institutional challenges.

Kudos to athletic director Bernard Muir for recognizing that Smith fits the Cardinal model even though Washington State and Stanford have little in common, including conferences.

While the Cardinal heads off to the ACC next season, Washington State becomes an affiliate member of the West Coast Conference (along with Oregon State). Smith, who coached in the WCC previously, undoubtedly was looking to avoid a second tour.

It’s unclear whether other schools with vacancies, including Washington, Louisville, Michigan and Ohio State, expressed interest in his services in recent weeks.

But Smith is plenty qualified for the Stanford job:

— He attended a small, private college, Hamilton, and later spent six years as a head coach in the Ivy league, at Columbia.

— He has Bay Area experience, first as an assistant at Saint Mary’s and later leading San Francisco for three seasons.

— His style of play, heavy on analytics, is called Nerdball.

— He has posted 20-win seasons at multiple levels of the game: twice in the Ivy League, three times in the WCC and twice in the Pac-12 with Washington State.

His last three years in Pullman produced a 36-24 record in conference play and featured a sweep of Arizona this season. (Stanford was 25-35 during that span.)

Put another way: Smith is vastly more qualified for the position than either of his predecessors, Johnny Dawkins and Haase, who combined for 15 seasons of abject mediocrity that rendered the program irrelevant and produced one NCAA Tournament bid (under Dawkins).

Muir’s fingerprints are all over those years in the wilderness. He stuck by Dawkins for far too long, then hired Haase, then retained Haase year after year despite the clear need for a change.

But given another shot, Muir made the smart hire.

Smith’s eye for talent and experience with a highly-selective admissions process (at Columbia) will serve him well with the limited talent pool available for Stanford.

His ability to develop players and tactical acumen offers the Cardinal a chance to eventually compete in the ACC and manage the daunting travel that awaits.

This won’t be a rapid rebuild — Smith cannot overhaul his roster in a matter of months like so many of his peers (or like he did last spring at WSU).

But given two or three recruiting cycles, a program that floundered in the mediocre Pac-12 could be competitive in the rugged ACC.

One area worth watching: The composition of Smith’s coaching staff.

Haase refused to hire assistants who had ties to the program, as former players or coaches. Will Smith repeat that mistake or hire at least one assistant with first-hand experience in Stanford’s unique culture?

More than anything, Smith offers the program something it has lacked for more than a decade: Hope that eventually this endless cycle of mediocrity will end.





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