Skip to main content
Original Issue

Zigging with the Zags

Trying to match Gonzaga's success has changed the culture of mid-major schools

SANTA CLARA basketball coach Dick Davey likes answering his own phone, although without a secretary he doesn't have much choice. His $1.2 million budget, the smallest in the West Coast Conference, doesn't provide for a third assistant, either. Things will be different next year. Thanks to an aggressive athletic department fund-raising campaign, the program will have a secretary, a bigger recruiting budget and better-paid coaches. But Davey, 64, a widely respected coach whose 250--188 record as head coach represents just 15 of the 30 years he has been with the program, won't be around to see it. He's the latest victim of what might be called Gonzaga syndrome.

Since Gonzaga broke onto the national scene with a run to the Elite Eight in 1999, the Zags have become the envy of every mid-major school in the country—especially their WCC brethren, who are scrambling to keep pace, even if it means becoming more cutthroat. Davey, who is in the final season of a two-year contract and did not have his contract renewed, is the fifth coach in the eight-school league to lose his job since 2004. "Gonzaga's success has changed the culture of our league," says University of San Diego coach Brad Holland, who is in his 13th year at the school. "The athletic directors and presidents are saying, 'Wow, look what's happened with Gonzaga! Look at the money they've generated through the NCAA tournament.' They think, If Gonzaga can do it, we can do it."

Keeping up with the Zags isn't made any easier by Gonzaga's resources; the school has a basketball budget of $1.9 million. But Santa Clara is giving Gonzaga, which has won or shared six straight regular-season conference titles, a run for its money. The Broncos—who were picked to finish sixth in the conference—snapped the Zags' 50 game home winning streak with an 84--73 victory on Feb. 12, and the teams are tied for the WCC lead at 10--3. Since Davey's retirement was announced on Feb. 1, the senior-laden Broncos have gone 5--1. "Coach Davey's retirement has added incentive to play harder," says senior guard Scott Dougherty. "We want to help him finish his career on the best note possible."

Davey is typically gracious about his exit—"If they win 30 games next year, I'll be the happiest guy on the block," he says—but it was not his idea to finish his career just yet. And he's likely not the last mid-major coach to suffer Gonzaga syndrome. Says Holland, "When Gonzaga started this run, it put our conference on the map. Everybody in the league can use that for recruiting. On the flip side, it has put a lot of pressure on the rest of us."



BITTERSWEET Santa Clara's Davey was forced out