POCATELLO — On Tuesday, Pauline Semons Thiros made her first big coaching change.
In the coming weeks, she’ll make her first major coaching hire.
Idaho State University’s newly cemented athletic director announced Tuesday that she is not renewing the contract of seven-year Bengals men’s basketball coach Bill Evans.
She now begins a nationwide search for his replacement, who will be tasked with reviving a struggling program and revenue driver.
Semons Thiros replaced former ISU soccer coach Allison Gibson with Debs Brereton in December, while Semons Thiros was ISU’s interim athletic director.
It was Semons Thiros’ first official coaching hire — but this one carries more weight.
Semons Thiros told the Journal on Wednesday she hopes to announce a new hire in “four to five weeks, max.”
“We’re going to move as fast as we can,” she said Wednesday. “But we’re also going to take the time we need to get a great candidate.”
ISU’s next head coach will surely be watched with keen eyes as they attempt to bring the Bengals’ basketball program out of the Big Sky Conference basement. ISU has ended three seasons at .500 or better since the turn of the century, and hasn’t won a conference championship since claiming a share of the regular-season crown in 1993-94. Only Idaho has a longer active drought within the Big Sky.
At its peak, ISU’s men’s basketball program was a giant killer. The Bengals ended UCLA’s record streak of 10 consecutive trips to the Final Four in 1977, during ISU’s unforgettable run to the Elite 8. That squad and others coached by Jim Killingsworth, and Lynn Archibald after him, strung together eight consecutive winning campaigns that included two trips to the NCAA Tournament.
But since then, ISU has struggled to consistently win. The Bengals haven’t had back-to-back plus-.500 seasons since 1993-94 and 94-95. The last coach to leave ISU with a winning record over the course of his tenure was Killingsworth, who went 109-54 from 1971-77.
During Evans’ tenure, which coincided with college basketball coaches across America abiding by a win-at-all-costs mentality, ISU hit the pit of its history, losing a program-record 26 games during the 2016-17 season — one of Evans’ three 20-loss seasons in Pocatello. Evans was never accused of foul play and publicly detested the aforementioned win-at-all-costs attitude. For that, Semons Thiros is one of many to ring Evans’ praises.
But Semons Thiros is one of many who also recognize more victories needed to come. Still need to come.
“A commitment to integrity and doing things the right way in Bengal athletics is always going to be something that we look for (in a head coach),” Semons Thiros said during Tuesday’s news conference, when she formally announced Evans’ non-contract renewal and was asked what she’ll look for in her new hire. “Someone that has some experience winning in a program and has a demonstrated track record of winning more than losing, performing well in their conference. We’re looking for someone that can really relate to players and to student-athletes, both from a recruiting standpoint as well as the young men that we have in our program, and can relate to them in such a way that they’re able to get their best all the time, or at least most of the time.
“I’m really proud of our young men. I think getting their best is enough to do better. That’s going to be a very big priority for us.”
Semons Thiros knows Evans faced challenges at Idaho State, and some of those hurdles will be inherited the next head coach of ISU men’s basketball. The biggest is a glaring lack of a true home venue.
The men’s basketball team splits its practice and game schedules between Holt Arena — the home stadium for ISU’s football team — and Reed Gym, which is the houses ISU’s volleyball and women’s basketball squads.
The Bengals men even practiced off campus this past season, at the multi-use Mountain View Event Center, 3 miles down Interstate 15.
Semons Thiros touted Pocatello, ISU, the surrounding community and supporters of Bengal athletics as positive selling points for a coach who may consider taking over the men’s basketball program. But she acknowledged that without an arena, the auxiliary support can only enact minimal change.
“I absolutely know and am committed to the idea that we can’t just make a head coaching change and have everything else be the same,” Semons Thiros said during Tuesday’s news conference. “We have a facilities issue that we’ve said we have to solve. We need to get our basketball program in a home more consistently. We need to be giving them some relief in terms of venues, and that’s going to take compromises internally, institutionally, and also on the part of the community. We have to decide, ‘what kind of a team and a program do we all want,’ and make some commitments to doing the things we have to do to get there.”
Semons Thiros didn’t clarify whether there will be an official search committee, but indicated it will be a team effort.
She also didn’t drop any hints as to who she’s reached out to regarding the job opening. But one hopeful candidate announced himself as available.
Former Bengals basketball player Amorrow Morgan told the Journal on Wednesday he is “100 percent” interested in the position, and would “love to come home” if given the opportunity by Idaho State.
Morgan played at ISU from 2006-10 and has spent the last two years as an assistant coach at Division I men’s basketball programs Nicholls State and South Alabama. Nicholls won a share of the Southland Conference regular-season championship with Morgan on staff during the 2017-18 season.
Whoever is hired can expect a roster loaded with seniors and returning impact players. As of Wednesday, no current ISU players had announced their intent to transfer.
Player mobility is a given in college basketball, and the Bengals lose players each season. A coaching change increases the risk of losing a key cog unexpectedly. Some of ISU’s players may ultimately seek other options once a hire is made.
Semons Thiros said she was encouraged by her conversations with ISU’s players following the announced coaching change.
“The guys have expressed, a majority of them, a strong commitment to Idaho State and have placed trust in the process,” Semons Thiros said Wednesday. “There might be a couple of players that I suspect their wheels are turning and they’re going to wait to see what happens with the hire.”
That makes this hire all the more crucial.