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Long Beach State reaches NCAA tournament with head coach who was fired 5 days ago

Dan Monson isn't going quietly into the night

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 14: Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson gestures courtside in the first half of a college basketball game between Long Beach State and San Diego State, Tuesday, November 14, 2023, at Viejas Arena in San Diego, California. (Photo by Tony Ding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Dan Monson isn't done at Long Beach State just yet. (Photo by Tony Ding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Long Beach State is going dancing, with a head coach who just got fired.

The 49ers won perhaps the most curious NCAA tournament berth in the country on Saturday with a 74-70 win over UC Davis in the Big West championship game. The win comes only five days after the firing of head coach Dan Monson.

Crucially, the Long Beach State brass opted to have Monson coach the team for the remainder of the season, which figured to be only the Big West tournament after an 18-14 regular season and five-game skid entering this week. Monson even acknowledged the need for a replacement in the statement announcing the "mutual separation":

"I am proud of what we have accomplished on and off the court, but it is time for a new voice for the program. 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."

Instead, the 49ers defeated UC Riverside, UC Irvine and UC Davis in consecutive days to earn the program's first March Madness bid since 2012, because college basketball doesn't always need to make sense.

Lassina Traore and Marcus Tsohonis both posted 25 points against the Aggies, while Aboubacar Traore had seven points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

Monson, who has also served as head coach for Gonzaga and Minnesota, is in his 17th season as head coach in Long Beach. He holds a 275-272 record with the program, with only one NCAA tournament appearance before this season.

His career began with success at Gonzaga, reaching the NCAA tournament in 1999, and he thinks he still has more coaching in front of him, as he told ESPN:

"I got the '99 run at Gonzaga, but, as Mark Few texted me "Why don't we have a run in the first year and a run in the last?" But I don't think this is my last. I love coaching. I love teams. I need a new challenge. It's life, it's onto the next chapter."

It seems unlikely Long Beach State will reverse course even with an NCAA tournament berth, but Monson doesn't seem concerned with a situation that is growing simultaneously more awkward and more fun:

"God has blessed me with a great career and these kids have been awesome to coach. When Jim Harbaugh says who's got it better than him, somebody needs to tell him Dan Monson."