Gonzaga has reached the Final Four for the second time. They enter the Final Four with a chance to become the first undefeated team since the 1975-1976 Indiana Hoosiers. They are playing in their 22nd consecutive NCAA tournament. That is the third-longest active streak behind Kansas and Michigan State. Every season during the 21st Century, they have been a March Madness fixture.
And every March over the last few years I make a pilgrimage to the Wikipedia page of Dan Monson, the guy who started it all. Monson was the head coach in 1999 when the Bulldogs made just their second NCAA tournament ever and became an immediate Cinderella while making the Elite Eight.
Monson went 52-17 at Gonzaga. After making the Elite Eight in '99, he signed a new deal, but just as quickly as Gonzaga burst onto the national scene, Monson bolted. Over the summer he left for the greener pastures of the Big Ten, taking a job coaching the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Monson went 118-106 at Minnesota, resigning six games into his eighth season. Since then he's been at Long Beach State where they last made the tournament in 2012.
Meanwhile, Mark Few took over at Gonzaga. He's now the seventh-longest tenured coach in D1 college basketball behind Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski, Greg Kampe (Oakland), Bob McKillop (Davidson), Fran O’Hanlon (Lafayette), and Tom Izzo.
Monson started as an assistant coach at Gonzaga in 1988 during the Dan Fitzgerald era. Few joined the program as a graduate assistant the next year when he was offered $500 and Monson's spare bedroom. In 1995 the school made the NCAA tournament for the first time. Fitzgerald left the program in 1997 and Monson became the head coach.
Who knows where Few, Gonzaga or Monson would be today if Monson hadn't left for Minnesota. Would the Zags have made every tournament this century? Would they be on the verge of a perfect season? Would Few, as a top Gonzaga assistant, have become a part of the Dan Monson coaching tree and built a great program elsewhere?
This is what keeps me going back to Monson's wikipedia entry to just stare. He's like Walter White leaving Grey Matter and taking $5,000. Monson had to watch something he helped build turn into a billion dollar company from the outside.
When Gonzaga made the championship game in 2017 ESPN profiled Monson and his lasting relationship with the school. Few and Monson are still good friends and Few and athletic director Mike Roth credit Monson as the one who started this run, but still. What a decision.