A Mad March Tale: I’m Fired? Okay, I’ll Keep Doing My Job.

March 21, 2024 / by ECLARO

If you’ve filled out a March Madness bracket, you’ve seen that Long Beach State drew a 15 seed in the 2024 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament this year, its first appearance in the tournament since 2012. Maybe you even picked them as a Cinderella story. Stranger things have happened.

Stranger things have happened to Long Beach State already. And so the tale begins.

We’re geared up for buzzer beaters and Cinderella stories and all the rest of the hoopla that comes with the biggest two weeks in college hoops, but rarely does one of the wildest story lines emerge before the tournament’s opening tip. Rarer still does that story star a coach who essentially gets fired, then still coaches his team into the Big Dance days later. Yet remains fired.

So yes, March Madness earned its reputation once again when, just last week, Long Beach State coach Dan Monson was let go after 17 years, and then led the Beach to its first NCAA tournament berth since 2012.

There are, no doubt, some lessons and observations to be had here about how to handle a parting of the ways. We’ll touch on a few of those shortly. But first…how exactly did this all happen?

After Long Beach State ended the regular season at 18-14 with a five-game losing streak, Monson, whose contract would be up in April, asked to meet with school athletic director Bobby Smitheran to, it’s been reported, discuss his plan to perhaps resign after the Big West Conference Tournament if the team’s play didn’t improve. What Monson learned instead was that the school had already decided to let him go. As in immediately. And that it would be announced that same day.

“Well, I can’t resign today, because I’m not going to quit on these players,” Monson told The Wall Street Journal he recalled saying to Smitheran. So a statement about a “mutual separation” of school and coach went out to the world, but the school and Monson agreed he would still coach what many parties believed would be just one more game.

Which turned into one more. And then one more. And another. Which led to the Big West Conference Tournament title and an automatic bid to this year’s NCAA Tournament.

And here we are. Sure, it’s been awkward in some circles, with people wondering aloud if Long Beach State might try to hire him back with a few more magical wins. Smitheran has said the school is still moving on regardless, but has done so in a positive manner, particularly considering the unlikely way things played out.

“While it’s not ideal,” Smitheran told The Journal, “Dan has been tremendous in how he has responded.”

Monson himself told the L.A. Times that regardless of how the story ends on the court, he would not be returning to Long Beach State. “To their credit, they let me coach,” Monson told the L.A. Times. “A lot of schools wouldn’t let you coach because something like this could happen.”

And therein lies a takeaway that we’ve been buzzing about as we filled out our brackets here in the halls of ECLARO (although nobody has Long Beach State). Yes, the circumstances will likely never again match those facing the winningest coach in Long Beach State history, but some of the observations have a universal ring to them…

There are ways to handle being fired and there are ways not to handle it.

There are ways to say the right things in tough situations, especially in public forums.

There are ways to show your professionalism and dedication to seeing a job through to the end, even under adversity.

There are ways to show you still believe in yourself, your team and your mission, even if it seems others no longer do.

There are ways to set yourself up for future opportunities, to show you’re the kind of person others will always want to work.

There are ways to leave a lasting impression that will inspire people in an organization long after you, and they, are gone.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished on and off the court, but it is time for a new voice for the program," Monson said in that mutual-separation statement. "I wish nothing but the best for a special university and a tremendous group of student athletes. I am also personally excited for what lies ahead for the Monson family and myself.”

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