It's madness at Long Beach State as Dan Monson heads to NCAA tournament on his way out

Last Monday, Long Beach State announced it would be seeking a new basketball coach.

Five days later, Dan Monson reminded the school it already had one.

In one of the maddest storylines of March, Monson’s team did not go quietly in what was supposed to be his final week on the job.

Losers of five consecutive games, the Beach rolled through the Big West Conference tournament with victories over UC Riverside, UC Irvine and UC Davis. Now, its season will roll on into the NCAA tournament with a coach who is on the way out.

The team’s first-round opponent will be announced Sunday afternoon. What happens if the Beach (21-14) continues to roll like a tidal wave through another week or so?

Monson sounded like he had accepted that he would be headed elsewhere after his team’s 74-70 victory over UC Davis on Saturday night at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nev.

“I got the run in ‘99 at Gonzaga,” Monson, who guided the Bulldogs to the Elite Eight that season, told ESPN after the game, “but as [current Gonzaga coach] Mark Few texted me, ‘Why don’t we have a run in the first year and a run in the last?’ But I don’t think this is my last. I love coaching. I love teams. I need a new challenge. It’s life, it’s onto the next chapter.”

The longest chapter of Monson’s career is apparently about to close. In 17 seasons at Long Beach State, he has become the school’s winningest coach with a record of 275-272. This will be his second appearance in the NCAA tournament with the Beach after reaching the first round in 2012 and losing to New Mexico.

Long Beach State and San Diego State (24-10), which is expected to receive an at-large bid one year after advancing to the championship game, will be the only Southern California schools represented in the NCAA tournament during a season in which UCLA and USC finished with losing records.

Known for ambitious nonconference scheduling and off-color jokes — he once cracked that he favored son Maddox, a walk-on guard, over other players because he was trying to sleep with his mother — Monson, 62, is the son of former Oregon coach Don Monson, who was on hand for his son’s latest triumph Saturday night. Dan got his coaching start under onetime UCLA coach Gene Bartow at Alabama Birmingham in 1986 before becoming an assistant at Gonzaga from 1988-97.

After a promotion to head coach at Gonzaga the following season, he led the Bulldogs to three wins in the 1999 NCAA tournament, starting the school’s run of 26 consecutive appearances in the tournament that have mostly come under Few. Seeking to secure his family’s future, Monson left for Minnesota to rebuild the program after a scandal involving coach Clem Haskins but reached only one NCAA tournament in parts of eight seasons with the Golden Gophers.

Monson replaced Larry Reynolds at Long Beach State in 2007 and reached the National Invitation Tournament four times in addition to his one trip to the NCAA tournament. But the Beach never won a postseason game and finished this season tied for fifth place in the Big West.

In announcing what was termed a mutual separation last week, new athletic director Bobby Smitheran — who had witnessed a Final Four run in his previous stop at San Diego State, where he was executive associate athletics director — intimated that the Beach could do better than they had in recent years.

“We are committed to finding the right person for the job — one that can harness the incredible energy of this community, build meaningful connections, and elevate this program to the next level,” Smitheran said.

Is it possible the Beach already has the man for the job? Depending on how things go, the situation might get even madder.

“God has blessed me with a great career and these kids have been awesome to coach,” Monson told ESPN. “When [new Chargers coach] Jim Harbaugh says who’s got it better than him, somebody needs to tell him Dan Monson.”

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