Entering his 11th season of experience in the Big SkyConference, Eastern Washington University men’s basketballcoach Kirk Earlywine is hoping his team makes it over the hump inthe 2010-11 season.
And with three starting guards returning, he certainly feels hisprogram is as close as it’s ever been as he enters his fourthseason at the helm. It’s even to the point that he believeshis team can compete for a spot among the league’s elite.
“I think we are much closer to accomplishing that than wehave been,” he explained. “Even a year ago we felt likewe were coaching all 13 guys every day. Now we have players -- ourthree returning guards especially -- doing what you expectreturning leaders to do. And that is to help coach the youngerplayers and the new guys as to what we are looking for and what wewant.
“This is my first year since I got the job that Ihaven’t felt like we were playing catch-up in terms of ourrecruiting,” he added. “We are recruiting betterplayers and winning more recruiting battles because we are gettinginvolved with players earlier -- the summer before their junioryear. We haven’t been able to do that up to thispoint.”
Earlywine, 46, led a team that featured three starting freshmanguards to a 9-21 record overall and 5-11 Big Sky Conference mark inthe 2009-10 season. Although the Eagles won three of their last sixgames -- including a home sweep of Montana and Montana State --Eastern did not qualify for the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
One year earlier, Eastern had a 12-18 record overall and 6-10Big Sky record. The Eagles started the season 6-2, and later in theyear lost a tiebreaker with Montana for the sixth and final leaguetourney berth.
In his debut year, he led the Eagles to a respectable 11-19finish that included a 6-10 league mark. Among the team’striumphs in his first season was a victory over Portland State,which would go on to win the league’s regular season andtournament titles and represent the Big Sky in the NCAATournament.
Hired on the late date of June 14, 2007, Earlywine’s firstteam had six players who had never played in a NCAA Division Igame. Earlywine came to EWU after spending one season as the topassistant coach at UNC Wilmington – his 21st as an assistantat the NCAA Division I level. He also spent the 1995-96 season as ahead coach at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C.
His 25-year collegiate coaching career includes seven seasons atWeber State where he worked as associate head coach on the staff ofJoe Cravens. The Wildcats won 116 games while Earlywine was there– the most in the Big Sky in that span.
The 2002-03 Weber State team had a perfect 14-0 Big Sky finish.The Wildcats defeated Eastern 60-57 for the Big Sky title, thenlost to Wisconsin 81-74 in the NCAA Tournament. The followingseason, Eastern advanced to its first-ever NCAA Tournament prior togoing 38-49 the next three seasons before Earlywine arrived.
Eastern received recommendations from several high-profilecollegiate head coaches, including Bruce Weber (Illinois), Bo Ryan(Wisconsin) and Dick Hunsaker (Utah Valley State and formerly atUtah). Earlywine worked with Hunsaker at Ball State when they bothserved on the staff of Rick Majerus, who then hired Earlywine tojoin him at the University of Utah. Majerus, Weber, Ryan andHunsaker have combined to win various national coach of the yearhonors in eight different seasons at the NCAA Division I level.
“Kirk is one of the best basketball minds I know witha proven record of success,” Weber said.“Having myself struggled to get that first Division Ihead coaching position, it is wonderful to see a coach ofKirk’s caliber finally get the opportunity to lead a program.He will accomplish great things.”
Former Portland State University head coach Heath Schroyer, nowat Wyoming, has coached against teams Earlywine has been with andhad this to say about his colleague:
“I coached against Kirk when I was an assistant atBrigham Young and when I was at Portland State,” hesaid. “He is, without a doubt, one of the best basketballminds in the game and can really evaluate talent.”
Earlywine is a 1987 graduate of Campbell University in BuiesCreek, N.C., where he served as a student assistant coach for twoseasons. He went on to coach at Ball State (two seasons from1987-89), Utah (four seasons from 1989-93), Central Michigan (twoseasons from 1993-95), Wisconsin-Milwaukee (three seasons from1996-99) and Weber State (seven seasons from 1999-2006).
Finishes 21-8 as Head Coach at Pfeiffer . ..
Earlywine’s team at Pfeiffer was 21-8 overall and 14-4 inconference play to advance to the NCAA Division II Championships.It was the school’s first season as a D-II member afterplaying previously as a member of the NAIA.
He took over the team in July 1995 with only two playersreturning and picked up a 71-62 first-round NCAA Division IITournament victory over 12th-ranked N.C. Central. The season endedwith a 49-47 loss to undefeated and No. 1 ranked Virginia Union inthe regional semifinals.
An Indiana native, Earlywine played one season of college hoopsas a point guard for Billy Lee at Pembroke before following Lee toCampbell as a student assistant coach. In 1986-87, the Camelsrecorded their first winning record in Division I action with a17-13 mark, finishing 10-4 in the Big South Conference.
Earlywine’s first full-time post came in 1987-88 under thecolorful Rick Majerus at Ball State. He worked two seasons forMajerus in Muncie, Ind., including an outstanding campaign in1988-89 that featured the Mid-American Conference title, a 29-3record and a first-round victory over Pittsburgh in the NCAATournament.
Earlywine then followed Majerus to Utah in 1989-90 and stayedfour seasons. In his second year in Salt Lake City, the Utes went30-4, captured the Western Athletic Conference title and reachedthe “Sweet Sixteen” with a sterling 30-4 record. Utahadvanced to the NIT Final Four in 1991-92 and captured the WACchampionship once again in 1992-93.
His next stop as an assistant came in 1993-94 when Earlywineserved on Leonard Drake’s staff at Central Michigan. He spenttwo seasons with the Chippewas before landing his first headcoaching job at Pfeiffer, where one of Earlywine’s assistantswas a young Benny Moss.
More than 10 years later, Earlywine’s 21st year as a D-Iassistant came in the 2006-07 season at UNC Wilmington where heworked for Moss.
“Kirk is a tremendous student of thegame,” said Moss at the time of Earlywine’shiring. “He’s a very good teacher, motivator and anevaluator of talent. He has worked for some of the best basketballminds in the business.”
Earlywine earned his bachelor of science degree in physicaleducation from Campbell in 1987. He was born July 4, 1964.
“I grew up in a gym with my father as a high schoolcoach,” added Earlywine, a native of Indiana.“So playing basketball and now coaching basketball hasalways been my passion.”