Boise State

Brian Murphy: Vandals have a winner in Perry

MOSCOW — Leonard Perry is showing the effects of trying to build a successful basketball program — his waistline is shrinking. Stress can be a powerful diet.

"Every ounce of it is from stress)," the coach said. "It's part of the job, and you know what, I love every second of it. I love the challenge of it."

And at Idaho, which dropped an 82-68 decision to Boise State here Saturday and fell to 3-14 and 0-6 in the WAC, there are enough challenges to put Jenny Craig out of business.

The challenges — and the mounting losses — might be enough to put Perry, now in his fifth season at his alma mater, out of business.

The numbers certainly justify handing Perry his walking papers. Saturday's loss was Idaho's ninth straight against the hated Broncos and eighth in a row overall. The Vandals are 3-26 in their last 29 games, and Perry is 47-86 in his four-plus seasons at the helm. There exists a very good possibility that Idaho will not win a league game in its inaugural WAC season.

The frustration among Vandal fans is growing.

"Believe me, I don't expect anyone to allow me to be the grand marshal of the parade at the moment," Perry said.

But dismissing Perry now or at the end of the season, as some in the Vandal community want, would be a mistake.

Idaho athletic director Rob Spear, who gave Perry a four-year extension after the 2003-04 season, said he would evaluate the entire program after the season, one that takes into account not only competitiveness on the court, but graduation rates and the behavior of student-athletes.

Acknowledging that five years is enough time “to put a stamp on the program” and that “Leonard has done some very positive things for our program,” Spear, a former CBA basketball player, did not rule out a change in leadership.

Spear said that as an athletic director “you better have a plan and better be prepared, whether you have coaches in successful programs or unsuccessful ones.”

Said Perry: “The program is in great shape other than winning basketball games, and I understand that’s the reason I’m here. But there’s a certain way it’s got to be done and I don’t think you can skip a step along the way.”

Firing Perry now would mean taking a step back on the long climb torespectability. Finding a better coach to sign up for a tour of duty atIdaho with its remote locale and unfavorable arena situation would be difficult. Finding one who cared more about the university and its success would be impossible.

Perry, who has two years remaining on his contract, turned down an offer to join Tim Floyd’s staff at Southern California in the offseason, knowing what trouble waited for him this year.

“This place is special to me, and I would never turn my back on it,” said Perry, who, as a point guard, led Idaho to the 1990 Big Sky championship and spent three seasons as a coach and administrator at the school after his playing days ended.

Despite the struggles, and the Vandals can be brutal to watch at times — like the first half of Saturday’s loss when they shot 25 percent from the field — there is hope in Moscow. Perry ditched his inexperienced staff last season to bring in veteran assistants George Pfeifer, a longtime and successful head coach at NAIA Lewis-Clark State College, and Leroy Washington, a noted recruiter.

The Vandals are still playing with primarily Big West talent — Idaho is in its third conference since 1996 — but freshman forward David Dubois, who scored 14 points against BSU, has the makings of a solid WAC player, and Perry has high hopes for freshman forward Aaron Smith. More help should arrive next year.

“I really don’t anticipate being in this position (in the WAC) next year. Ireally don’t. I have no patience to be where we are next year, nonewhatsoever,” Perry said. “This is a beautiful place and it deserves awinner.”

In Perry, it has one. Given more time, he just might turn the basketball team into one.

To offer story ideas or comments, contact sports columnist Brian Murphy at bmurphy@idahostatesman.com or 377-6444.

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