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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 26, 2010

CBKB: Boise State hires Rice as new head coach

Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho Boise State has named Leon Rice, a skilled recruiter and longtime assistant at Gonzaga, to be the next head basketball coach.

Rice, 46, was introduced Friday as the seventh coach in school history hours after signing a five-year deal that will pay him an annual base salary of $400,000.

For the last 11 years, Rice has served as the top recruiter and assistant under Mark Few, who led Gonzaga this season to a 27-7 record and 12th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

For Rice, the challenge will be turning around a program that has been inconsistent the last decade and has struggled to put fans in the stands and emerge from the shadow of the wildly successful Bronco football team.

A self-described "Northwest guy," Rice said he rarely sought head coaching opportunities during his time with Gonzaga. But his ambitions changed when the job in Boise opened earlier this month.

"I was fortunate enough to be in a terrific job," Rice told reporters, players and boosters Friday. "So I've been able to be very, very selective. I've not pursued jobs. But when this job opened up, I knew it was a good fit for me."

Rice takes over a team that finished 15-17 and in a lackluster performance was eliminated in the first round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament.

The next day, athletic director Gene Bleymaier fired Greg Graham after eight seasons at the helm. Graham led the Broncos to an NCAA tournament berth two years ago and compiled a 142-112 record, good enough to be the second-winningest coach in school history.

But the team declined under Graham's leadership the last two years, and fan support waned. At the same time, the Bronco football team was establishing itself as a perennial Top 10 finisher, prompting fans and boosters to wonder why the consistent success couldn't be achieved on the hardwood.

Rice said he sees the stature of the football team as an asset rather than a liability for turning around a program and expanding the fan base.

"The football team attracted all of our attention," said Rice, flanked by his wife and three sons. "It's going to open doors for the basketball program.

"We're going to play an exciting brand of basketball. We want to put something out there that is not only winning games, but is fun to watch. It doesn't happen overnight, and there are no shortcuts," he said.

While at Gonzaga, Rice helped recruit and coach eight Associated Press All-Americans, including NBA players Adam Morrison and Ronny Turiaf, who helped the Bulldogs amass a 291-73 record.

Before joining Few's staff, Rice worked as an assistant at Oregon and Northern Colorado. In his only season as a head coach, Rice posted a 31-2 record at Yakima Valley College (Wash.) in 1998-99.