MOSCOW — The longest coaching tenure in the history of University of Idaho men’s basketball came to an end Friday, in circumstances that a month ago would have been highly surprising.
The school announced the firing of 11-year coach Don Verlin, three weeks after placing him on administrative leave amid three potential NCAA violations.
The coach’s supporters say the alleged violations appear minor. They’re also coming to the surface after a 5-27 season, by far Verlin’s worst at the school.
“I am angry as hell,” said Tom Clark, an Idaho graduate who had organized a pro-Verlin campaign in recent weeks, “and I think you are going to have a bunch of Vandal boosters that feel exactly like I do.
“These are three trivial accusations against him,” he said.
The Vandals named assistant coach Zac Claus as interim head coach and, surprisingly, said he will continue in that role through the 2019-20 season. Two other assistants, Kirk Earlywine and Tim Murphy, will stay on board, and a search for Verlin’s successor will begin next spring, the school said.
Thus ends the longest coaching reign ever at UI in that sport. Richard Fox headed the program for nine years ending in 1936.
The firing was announced in an Idaho news release late Friday afternoon by interim athletic director Pete Isakson, who said he’d consulted Chuck Staben, the outgoing school president, and the man set to replace him in the coming weeks, Scott Green. The release said Verlin was being “terminated for cause.”
“As with all personnel matters, we weigh many factors before we make a decision,” Isakson said. “These are not easy conversations or decisions, but we have a direct responsibility to do what is best for the university.”
Verlin said Friday he was unable to comment at this time.
Idaho announced May 28 it had placed Verlin on leave the previous week after receiving a report from a consultant who’d cited three potential NCAA violations.
The one deemed most serious reportedly involved director of player development Brooks Malm, who was said to have performed coaching duties outside the parameters of his job. He reportedly was seen holding a whistle in practice last September and flashing play-call cards during a game in December.
Malm and others confirmed to the consultant he sometimes acted as a rebounder and passer during practices and held play-call cards during the past two seasons. He said he didn’t provide what he considered basketball instruction.
A second potential violation, considered less serious, was heavily redacted in the consultant’s report. A third involved two prospective athletes in pickup games.
Clark, a Lewiston lawyer, said the firing will be unpopular among Idaho fans.
“I sent a mailing to a number of Vandal boosters before they made their decision,” he said, “and without exception every one of them supported keeping Don Verlin on as coach. I had not one negative comment about Don Verlin as coach.”
Hired in 2008, Verlin brought stability to a program that had made nine coaching changes in the previous 25 years. In contrast to recent predecessors, he placed a big emphasis on acquiring high-school as opposed to junior-college players and focusing his recruiting on the Pacific Northwest.
He posted a 17-16 record his first year, ending the school’s streak of nine straight losing seasons. The Vandals made the first of three CollegeInsider.com Tournament appearances under Verlin that year, and they also drew a bid from the College Basketball Invitational to cap a 21-13 season in 2016.
Verlin’s final record at the school is 177-176.