Fired to on fire: LBSU’s Dan Monson living ‘Seinfeld’ episode

Deposed head coach enjoying one last wave with the Beach

Dan Monson NCAA Tournament Press Conference

SALT LAKE CITY — Should the opportunity to celebrate another win at Long Beach State present itself on Thursday, Dan Monson could be afforded a mulligan for choosing the wrong finger to point skyward as he exits the court.

Crass as the notion might seem, consider Monson was fired before guiding his fourth-seeded team to the Big West tournament title and an automatic bid to the 2024 NCAA Tournament. He owns the school record with 275 victories and guided Long Beach State to the 2012 NCAA Tournament, but a five-game losing streak to end the regular season led him to agree The Beach needed a new voice.

“Did you see the Seinfeld when George was trying to get fired and couldn’t lose his job, still going to work every day? That’s me. I’m a Seinfeld episode going on right now in real life,” Monson said Wednesday as 15th-seeded Long Beach State (21-14) prepares to take on No. 2 seed Arizona.

“He’s a great guy,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “We have a ton of fun together. He’s somebody that you’re always going to smile and laugh with. I know he’s going through a tough time, but he’s handling it with incredible grace.”

Monson, who took Gonzaga to the Elite Eight in 1999 as head coach before he was hired as Minnesota coach, came out of the past two weeks with a different perspective than many might expect.

It all stems from the togetherness and love felt from his players and coaching staff since walking into a team meeting the Monday before the Big West tournament to deliver the “hardest thing professionally you go through.”

Tears, anger, resistance were all emotions and reactions Monson expected and witnessed from players as he shared the news. Monson told players, ‘We still have this week, we have to respect their decision. I said, ‘We’re in this together now.’”

Junior Jadon Jones said he was dumbfounded, then felt pangs of guilt when Monson spilled the news.

“We felt like failures. We were on a five-game losing streak. Truly I don’t believe it was his fault. We were the guys out there. We’re the ones guarding and putting the ball in the basket,” Jones said Wednesday. “I know it’s a business and they have to make business decisions. But to do it before the tournament, it hurt. It felt like we had let him down. They had completely given up on us. They didn’t believe we were even going to compete.

“We knew that we had to prove them wrong.”

Players asked for Monson to give them time by themselves to process the news. Within 30 minutes, Monson was receiving text messages to come back. His team asked to begin watching film to get ready for the conference tournament.

Monson put his coaching hat on and intended to begin with film prep. But he quickly realized his counselor cap was more appropriate.

“The first thing I said is, ‘Just bonding together is not going to be enough. Our defense has got to get better. We have to be a better basketball team this week. Just look at this first defensive clip, guys. We close out short here. The guy is wide open, we don’t get a contest. These are the kind of plays that get a coach fired,’” Monson recalled of the reunion with players.

“The whole room broke up. It started right then. It was like, ‘OK, we’re going to be all right here.’”

The Beach eliminated top seed UC Irvine to crash the tournament championship game, where Long Beach State rallied from a halftime deficit with 47 second-half points to secure the NCAA Tournament bid. Monson knows none of the success that followed the meeting would’ve come without the collective vulnerability that bonded the team behind those closed doors.

“Those guys showed me they loved me that day. I’ll never forget it. That’s all you need,” Monson said. “I’ve reflected this week that I don’t have a job, but I don’t need one. I got everything I got with my family, with my players, with my friends. It’s been a life-changing week in a good way.

“Next week I have a car payment, house payment. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I don’t really care.”

When Monson left for Minnesota, he said he helped Lloyd get an assistant coaching job on current Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s staff. They all have a hand in building Gonzaga from Cinderella to a 25-year mainstay on the NCAA Tournament stage.

All three are in Salt Lake City this week, but with the Wildcats and The Beach going head-to-head at 11 A.M. MST on Thursday, it remains to be seen how long the Utah residency will last.

“Sometimes you need to step back and say, ‘I’ve got it pretty good,’” Monson said. “This has helped me to do that. It’s been a very emotional, spiritual, however you want to put it. I’ve been on my knees this week more times than not. It’s been very good to know that I’m in a good place. I’m looking forward to next year. I don’t even know what it is.

“As I tell my players, I’m not worried about anything but tomorrow. We’re trying to stay in the moment. Staying in the moment has been pretty good to us this week.”

As Monson began to exit the press conference, he found one more reason to smile by throwing a jab at his first-round opponent, knowing Lloyd would be following him to the media area.

“I’ll see you guys on Friday,” Monson said, understanding the only way he’s in the media room Friday is by beating Arizona on Thursday.

‘Tell Tommy I said that.”

–Field Level Media