When Rob Ash left Drake in 2007 to take the head coaching job at Montana State, he left behind a winning legacy he spent 18 years building. It wasn't an easy decision, but Ash was ready for a new challenge.
"It is difficult to say goodbye to the people at Drake that I've been associated with for the last 18 years," Ash said at the time. "But I left the program in better shape than when I got there."
Fast forward six years, and Ash is still doing what he does best -- building a winner. Montana State's 20-17 victory last week over Sacramento State was a landmark win for Ash. It marked his 47th career victory in Bozeman, which tied him with the legendary Sonny Holland on MSU's all-time list.
Here is a quick look at the Bobcats' top five all-time winningest coaches:
- ROB ASH, 2007-present -- 47-21-0 (.691)
- SONNY HOLLAND, 1971-77 -- 47-27-1 (.627)
- CLIFF HYSELL, 1992-99 -- 41-47-0 (.466)
- MIKE KRAMER, 2000-06 -- 40-43-0 (.482)
- SCHUBERT R. DYCHE, 1928-35, '38-41 -- 36-53-7 (.375)
Ash came to MSU when previous coach Mike Kramer was controversially terminated in May of 2007. Ash was picked from a pool of four finalists, two of which (Dale Lennon and Mike Van Diest) pulled out of the running during the selection process.
It took Ash a few years to get things revved up -- thanks to NCAA restrictions left over from the Kramer era -- but since 2010 the Bobcats are 27-7 (a .794 winning percentage) and have made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. They're a virtual lock for a third straight appearance this year.
Here are perhaps my favorite statistics of the last few seasons under Ash, dug up by MSU's sports information office:
1) 2012 marks the Bobcats' third consecutive eight-win season, which they haven't done since the 1956 through '58 campaigns. 2) Ash has led MSU to 19 Big Sky Conference wins since the beginning of 2010, the most victories in the league in that span.
Right now, he's got the Cats ranked No. 2 in the nation and in the thick of the Big Sky Conference title hunt. Is Ash the best coach in Bobcats history? I think he has to have more playoff success than he has so far, but he's on the right track.
One thing you can count on: When Ash leaves Bozeman, the Cats will be in better shape than they were when he got there.