When news came in late March that Eastern Washington Eagles head coach Jim Hayford was leaving to become the new head coach of the Seattle Redhawks, many were surprised. After all, it had only been two years since Hayford and the Eagles won both the Big Sky regular season and tournament titles, taking the school to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004 (and only the second time ever). If anything, most would have guessed that he would have left for a school of greater prominence in the college basketball landscape.
Naturally, when a coach leaves in a bit of an unexpected manner, much consternation ensues within the athletic department. However, Eastern Washington officials clearly had a guy in mind from the get-go. As the Spokeman-Review’s Jim Allen noted:
The drama began and ended on Twitter. Total elapsed time: two hours and 43 minutes.
2 hours and 43 minutes for a coaching search? Perhaps Eastern Washington Athletic Director Bill Chaves should give a workshop to other teams on how to make a timely hire (hi, UNLV). Clearly, when a coaching search takes less than three hours, someone was already in mind.
That person in mind was Shantay Legans. An assistant for the eagles since 2009, Legans has been with the program through thick and through thin. During his time in Cheney, Legans has experienced everything from the joy found during an NCAA tournament berth to the agony that attaches itself to a season with a win total in the single digits.
The day of the official introduction of Legans, the new-yet-familiar head coach took to Twitter, expressing his gratitude and excitement about the path forward for himself and the Eagles. Not only that, but he also got some support from Aaron Best, the current head football coach at Eastern Washington.
Thankfully for Legans, the program is in great shape for him to simply take off now that he is in charge. The loss of Jacob Wiley will certainly hurt, but basketball fans everywhere should be itching to watch Bogdan Bliznyuk’s Big Sky swan song. After garnering Second Team All-Big Sky honors and leading the team in scoring and rebounding last season, Bliznyuk is back for his shot to win the Big Sky Player of the Year crown that teammate Wiley earned last season.
Along with talented returning players, Legans also has a 4-man recruiting class incoming, led by Montana native Brendan Howard. The promise shown by him should be enough to excite Shantay Legans. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this profile of Howard from Scott Mansch of the Great Falls Tribune:
Howard is a relentless offensive rebounder and solid shooter who is able to score both inside and out. He has improved his outside shooting considerably in recent years and has spent summers playing for highly regarded AAU teams against top-notch competition.
With Weber State and North Dakota both losing some of their teams’ most talented players, the race for supremacy in the Big Sky should be wide open next season. There’s certainly an avenue for Eastern Washington to rise back to the top of the conference next year. And, with a guy who’s familiar with winning in Cheney at the helm, one can expect success to come.