FORT COLLINS — Jase Herl’s closet doesn’t include much formal wear. It was never an issue until Saturday.
The 30-year-old small-town Kansas native, in a blue blazer, gray slacks and spiked brown hair, made his Division I head coaching debut Saturday for Colorado State as the Rams’ third head coach over the span of seven unpredictable days. When CSU defeated San Jose State 90-79 to snap a seven-game losing streak, players staked out the locker room to celebrate with their new leader.
“As soon as coach Jase walked in, we got water bottles and sprayed him with it,” center Nico Carvacho said.
“Messed up his whole suit,” added guard Anthony Bonner.
Herl smiled in the postgame news conference. Still wet.
“It was nice for them, it wasn’t very nice for me,” Herl said. “I’m soaked, it’s cold out and I’ve got about two suits.”
Finally, a second to pause and laugh. Fleeting moments of late for a basketball program in turmoil.
Herl, a second-year CSU assistant coach, was promoted to head coach about four hours before tipoff after athletic director Joe Parker announced that interim coach Steve Barnes would join Larry Eustachy on paid administrative leave through the program’s “climate assessment” to establish whether a culture of fear and intimidation had developed under Eustachy’s watch.
Despite his youth, Herl was the most the most qualified candidate on staff to replace Barnes as he was the only assistant left with head coaching experience. Herl led Northwest Kansas Technical College’s men’s basketball team for three seasons (2013-15) and coached future Ram Gian Clavell before his transfer to CSU. Parker’s decision to promote Herl on Saturday resonated with Rams players and it showed in their play.
Bonner recalled Herl’s final message before the players took the floor: “Go out there, hoop, have fun and don’t look at the bench unless I call your name.”
“He’s just for us,” said Carvacho, who finished with a career high 26 points to go along with 20 rebounds. “We have a really good relationship off the court with him. I think all of us do. It helps on the court. We just went out there and played for him and he coached for us. We had some fun.”
Herl deflected most every postgame question about the unusual path that led him to this moment. In 2012, he was coaching seventh graders in Goodland, Kan.. He landed his first head coaching job at Northwest Kansas before age 23. Recruiting connections with CSU led Eustachy to hire Herl in 2016, and now, his D-I head coaching record is 1-0.
Like his predecessors, Herl was vocal on the CSU sideline as the Rams’ 10-point lead midway through the first half dwindled to single digits after the break. But when the Rams pulled away at the end and Herl pulled his starters, one major difference stood out. As Carvacho walked toward off the court to a standing ovation, he stopped and hugged his coach at mid-court.
“These guys know who I am and I’ve been that way since I’ve been here,” Herl said. “If that gives them freedom and the feeling they need to go out there and play the right way and play together, then that’s good. I was raised a certain way, I’m going to act a certain way and that’s who I am.”
But the cold truth of Herl’s feel-good story is that it will likely finish on a sour note. When asked if he expects to be coaching the team next week, Herl said he had not received any confirmation. The Denver Post reported last week that CSU plans to terminate Eustachy’s contract. The two sides are believed to be negotiating an exit plan. That leaves little likelihood CSU would retain Herl, especially as head coach, as it moves ahead.
But for at least one day, that uncertain future was on pause to celebrate the now.
Herl’s water-logged suit would be the only loss for CSU on Saturday.
“We might have to pitch in to get him a new one,” Carvacho said.