Long Beach State coach Dan Monson’s unemployment tour ends with loss to Arizona in first round

Dan Monson’s unexpected unemployment tour came to an end in Salt Lake City. The longtime Long Beach State coach and his team came up short in an upset bid of No. 2-seeded Arizona at Delta Center, as the Wildcats advanced with an 85-65 win.

Monson, the one-time architect of what’s now a juggernaut at Gonzaga and former coach of Minnesota, was fired prior to last week’s Big West Conference tournament, where the Beach won three games in three days, turning the 62-year-old into an emotional story of the season.

The story continued to take on a life of its own this week, as Monson turned his Wednesday press conference into a one-man act, equating himself to “Seinfeld” character George Costanza continuing to show up to work after being fired.

Things only got stranger Thursday, when a quote from Long Beach State athletic director Bobby Smitheran set social media into a frenzy. Smitheran, who was named Long Beach AD six months ago, seemingly credited the team’s run to the NCAA Tournament to his decision to fire Monson.

“My belief and the hope is that by doing what I did and the timing of it, they would play inspired, and that’s what they did,” Smitheran told the Associated Press. “I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but it worked.”

Asked about Smitheran’s comment after the loss to Arizona, Monson opted to simply say, “We’ll never know,” and added that if the firing indeed “spurred the run,” then that’s fine by him.

Monson described a “range of emotions” about his career potentially coming to an end. Asked if he would like to coach elsewhere, he said, “I hope not, but that’s not all entirely up to me.” He said the last weeks have been a time of reflection and, in the end, “I’m proud of who I am.”

“It will hit me, I think, on Monday,” he said of his career possibly wrapping up.

Long Beach guard Jadon Jones said the postgame locker room was emotional, but there were no goodbyes “because he created a family.” Jones took a moment in the press conference to thank Monson as his teammates nodded. In the back of the room, Darci Monson, Dan’s wife, brushed away tears.

In the closing moment, Monson sent his deep reserves into the game, including his son, Maddox Monson. The walk-on played the final minute, then followed his father down the handshake line.

Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd, a longtime friend of Monson dating back to their days at Gonzaga, told reporters after the win that the treatment of Monson “isn’t right” and said he hopes another school will give him a head coaching opportunity.

The Beach hung with Arizona early on, leading by five with under five minutes remaining in the first half. But the Wildcats’ size and firepower took over in time. Arizona made 13 3-pointers, eventually breaking Long Beach’s zone defense, forcing Monson to switch out of it. All five Wildcat starters finished in double figures, led by Kylan Boswell’s 20 points.

Arizona scored nearly 1.2 points per possession in the second half and broke the game open with a 17-2 run out of halftime.

The Wildcats, who were bounced as a No. 2 seed in a first-round upset to Princeton last year, improved to 26-8 on the season.

Required reading

(Photo: Rob Gray / USA Today)

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