Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Coaching search ends as Washington State names Idaho coach Wayne Phipps to lead Cougar program...

While all five of Washington's Division I schools were making their way to Fayetteville, Arkansas for the start of the NCAA West Preliminary Round on Thursday, the biggest news came out of Pullman where Washington State University announced the hiring of University of Idaho director of track & field/cross country Wayne Phipps (above/photo courtesy Washington State University) as its director of track and field/cross country on Tuesday.

Phipps will be the fifteenth coach to take the reins of the Cougar men's program and the second to coach the combined men's and women's squads.  Phipps replaces Rick Sloan, who announced his retirement following the conclusion of the current season back in August.

The hiring of Phipps takes effect on July 1st.

“I am most happy to welcome Wayne to the Cougar family,” said WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos. “I have watched his good work from afar and have been impressed with not only his success in regards to competition but also how he has managed his program. I believe he is a great ft and I am excited for the future of our Cougar Track and Field programs.”

“I want to thank Bill Moos and Anne McCoy for giving me this amazing opportunity,” Phipps said. “I also want to thank Mike Keller who gave me my start at Idaho as well as Rob Spear and my staffs at Idaho for all of their support. It is an absolute honor and privilege to be the next director of track and feld and cross country at Washington State University. The Cougars have a legendary past in track and field; and the teams and athletes that coaches such as John Chaplin and Rick Sloan have produced will go down in track and field history. I could not be more excited about the opportunity to keep this tradition alive, to make Cougar nation proud, and to represent Washington State University at the highest level possible.”

The 45-year old has been the University of Idaho’s Director of Track & Field/Cross Country for the past four seasons and has been with the Vandals program for the past 19 years. He served as co-head coach from 2000-09, after serving as an assistant coach from 1995-99. In his time at Idaho, he has been honored 14 times as a conference coach of the year and has led the Vandals to a record 16 total conference titles.

The native of Prince George, British Columbia ran collegiately at the University of Montana and the University of British Columbia, where he earned his degree in exercise science in 1991.  He earned his masters of science in 1994 from the University of Oregon with a sports medicine major and minors in biomechanics and exercise physiology.

Phipps currently coaches two-time Canadian Olympian and surprise 2013 world championships 100 hurdles finalist Angela Whyte, who is currently an assistant coach on the Idaho staff. Among the notable athletes Phipps has coached include Tawanda Chiwira of Zimbabwe, and Sherwin James of Dominica.   Both competed for their countries at the Olympics.

Since 2000, the Vandals have produced five Olympians, two IAAF world track & field championship finalists, and a world cross country championship participant.  The Vandals have been the dominant program in the Western Athletic Conference, as they just won both the men's and women's outdoor title this season, two straight women's cross country crowns in 2012-13, and two men's indoor titles in the last three seasons.

The questions that many people close to the WSU program have asked is why the process of naming a head coach/director took so long, when Sloan announced his intent to retire back in August, and also whether or not Phipps can fire up the alumni base of a program that, with the exception of several individuals over recent years, is nowhere near what it once was.

According to several sources close to the program, the intent was to name Sloan's successor in April, but the WSU coaching search was put on the back burner when the school fired men's basketball coach Ken Bone and replaced him with former Oregon coach Ernie Kent.

Those sources then said that Arizona associate head coach James Li, who was the WSU distance coach when Bernard Lagat attended the school, was offered the job, but turned it down because of financial concerns for himself and his staff.

As John Blanchette wrote in the Spokane Spokesman-Review on May 19th, the search then focused on Phipps and former WSU decathlete Rodney Zuyderwyk, currently the associate head coach at New Mexico,  best known for coaching Kara Patterson at Purdue to her first Olympic team in 2008.

It's expected that several of WSU's current assistant coaches will not be back for the 2014-15 season.  It also remains to be seen which of Phipps' current staff will join him in Pullman.

The new WSU staff will have the challenge of signing prep athletes to national letters of intent, as the Cougs only have three announced signees--sprinter Jonnie Green from Ephrata, sprinter Zach Smith from Bremerton, and distance runner Sam Levora from Sandpoint, Idaho.  It's presumed that any athletes who were recruited by the current Cougar staff are taking a wait-and-see approach until the new staff is in place.

NOTE:  The sports information office at Washington State University and the University of Idaho contributed to this report.

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