Gonzaga Coach Thrives In Third Season

Jan. 15, 2002

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS

Associated Press Writer

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Mark Few doesn't particularly like a lot of attention. The Gonzaga coach prefers a low-key approach to his job and doesn't speak in sound bites. He's a scowler, not a screamer, on the sideline.

Still, he gets riled up by the suggestion that the No. 18 Bulldogs are merely a "mid-major" program that can pull off an upset from time to time. Few relishes heaping abuse on basketball teams from what he calls football schools, the power conferences like the Big 10, ACC, Pac-10 and SEC.

Too many of those teams get free passes to the NCAA tournament, at the expense of more deserving programs from lower-profile leagues, Few contends.

"I don't know why. A lot of them haven't done anything," he said.

A little-known assistant when he was promoted in 1999, the coach has done what few people expected in keeping the Bulldogs (13-2 going into the weekend) among the nation's elite teams.

Their current ranking is the highest since they began playing Division I basketball in the 1958-59 season. But this 39-year-old son of a Presbyterian minister isn't about to take much of the credit.

"We've had a great run of great players," Few said. "Any coach will tell you that's the key. If they are not telling you that, then their ego's too involved in the situation."

Ego isn't a problem for Few, even though his record at Gonzaga is 65-18, with runs to the NCAA round of 16 in both his full seasons.

It irks him when teams from power conferences stack their non-conference schedules with home games, and refuse to travel to places like Spokane, home of the 5,000-student Catholic university that counts NBA career assists leader John Stockton among its alumni.

So, Few takes his Bulldogs into hostile arenas nationwide to ensure they get enough games against major opponents.

Last Monday night, for example, the Bulldogs went on the road to beat New Mexico 95-90 in overtime before 17,400 frenzied fans in The Pit for their 10th straight victory.

The Bulldogs are favorites to win the West Coast Conference again this season. Their admirers include opposing coaches.

"Our league looks like 'Gonzaga and the Seven Dwarfs,"' Loyola Marymount coach Steve Aggers said.

New Pepperdine coach Paul Westphal said: "If Gonzaga wasn't a rival, I would be a fan. They've really built a program there with continuity."

Few is still adjusting to all the attention in Spokane, where the sold-out games are often the best way to ward off the winter chill.

"I used to be able to go to the grocery store in a ratty T-shirt, cutoffs and thongs," Few said. "But now that people know who I am, I can't get away with such sloppy dress."

He struggles with the demands of his high-profile job and his desire to live a quiet life with his wife and toddler son.

"I have to turn a lot of things down, such as speaking engagements and personal appearances because I value that family time very much," Few said.

Few doesn't point to any specific mentors in developing his coaching style.

"I've picked and chosen some things I like from different guys," he said. "All that gets molded into how you are as an individual person."

No control freak, Few expects his players to make their own decisions.

Against Saint Joseph's recently, Gonzaga got the ball in the closing seconds with the score tied. Most coaches would have called a time-out to set up a play. Few let point guard Dan Dickau dribble most of the remaining time off the clock and then launch a 3-pointer from 30 feet that won the game.

Forward Cory Violette said Few instills plenty of confidence in his players.

"We feel we are as good as any team in the nation," Violette said. "Coach Few is always saying life is too short not to play with a lot of confidence."

Few, raised in Creswell, Ore., graduated from Oregon and was an assistant coach at high schools in Creswell and Eugene before heading to Gonzaga in 1989 as a 27-year-old graduate assistant to Dan Fitzgerald. He was friends with Dan Monson, who was Fitzgerald's full-time assistant.

Two years later Few became a full-time assistant and in 1997 was hired as associate head coach when Monson took over.

After leading the Bulldogs within one victory of the Final Four in his second season, Monson left for the University of Minnesota.

Few was rewarded for his loyalty with his first head coaching position at any level. He led a senior-laden team to a 26-9 record and the NCAA round of 16.

Last season, led by senior forward Casey Calvary, the Bulldogs were 26-7 and again reached the round of 16.

With Calvary gone, and a brutal non-conference schedule, expectations weren't as high this season. But the Bulldogs have lost only at No. 7 Illinois and to Marquette in the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout.

In May 2000, Few received an eight-year contract extension, an unusual amount of job security for a coach.

In the past decade, Gonzaga has won or shared five WCC titles and made seven trips to postseason play. Duke and Michigan State are the only other teams to reach the round of 16 each of the past three years. Few has been part of it all.

"He is one of the hottest young coaches in the game and we are very fortunate to have him leading our program," athletic director Mike Roth said. "We didn't give Mark the job, he earned it."

 

 

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