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Canzano: For Oregon State, it's still Wayne Tinkle... or bust
Beavers must live in transfer portal this offseason.
LAS VEGAS — It was seven years ago that I found Wayne Tinkle in Las Vegas, eyes closed, with his body draped on a folding chair after a win at the Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball tournament.
Oregon State defeated Arizona State that evening. Tinkle was sick. He had a temperature of 103. But he coached the game and collected the program’s 19th win of the season — a victory that essentially locked up OSU’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 26 seasons.
Tinkle’s suit jacket was thrown on the floor of the locker room. His button-up shirt was drenched with sweat. It was a nice moment for the program. Gary Payton II was celebrating with his teammates across the way, but his coach’s head was leaned back against the brick wall.
Tinkle could barely talk. He looked awful. The coach was too sick to make the post-game news conference, so it came to him instead.
“I feel so sick, I’m sorry,” he told me. “My temperature is so high. I’ll sit here and answer questions if you want. I’m so happy. But I’m so sick.”
The guy battles. Give him that. But Tinkle now finds himself facing the fight of his tenure at OSU.
He’s in the late stages of a second-consecutive underwhelming season. The No. 11-seed Beavers (11-20) play a first-round Pac-12 tournament game against No. 6-seed Arizona State on Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena. But it’s next season we already need to talk about.
Tinkle must win. To do that — he has to get in the transfer portal like some of his Pac-12 peers and find immediate size and play-making talent. It’s puzzling that the Beavers didn’t do more in the portal in front of this season. But I suspect the strategy may be related to Tinkle’s secure contract status.
Oregon State is only two years removed from a magical Elite Eight run. Tinkle was rewarded in the wake of that accomplishment with a six-year contract extension. Good thing for Tinkle, too, because if the Beavers fired him today they’d owe him $11.4 million. OSU can’t afford to make a change.
Tinkle’s remaining salary:
2023-24: $2.7 million
2024-25: $2.8 million
2025-26: $2.9 million
2026-27: $3 million
Freshman Jordan Pope is a star. Tinkle must retain Pope and some other promising young players. Beyond that, the Beavers need to look around the conference and ask themselves how they can do more in the transfer portal this offseason.
Wednesday’s opponent — Arizona State — is a great example. Bobby Hurley has six transfers who helped the Sun Devils win 20 regular-season games this season. It was a remarkable achievement. Hurley engineered the success on the backs of transfers. I was surprised Oregon State didn’t try that as well after a miserable 3-28 season in 2021-22.
Tinkle said: “This year, it was all about trying to get our culture back.”
What exactly happened after the Elite Eight?
Tinkle pointed to bad recruiting, too many misfires, and the loss of key leadership. He recruited players using Zoom that offseason due to the pandemic, trusted some poor testimonials and didn’t do his homework. The roster mix was toxic.
“Last year was brutal,” Tinkle said. “It was as low as we’ve ever been. It wasn’t so much the win-loss record, which was horrendous. It was not being able to get through to our guys.”
I spent some time with OSU on the road late last season, talking with coaches and players. I flew home thinking the Beavers didn’t much like — or respect — each other. I wasn’t surprised by the line of offseason defections and the roster overhaul.
“We lost a lot of momentum,” Tinkle said. “We had to do a total scrub.”
The roster reboot netted 11 wins this season. Among the highlights, OSU upset USC last month. It also has Pac-12 victories over Colorado, Cal and Washington. If you’re looking for lowlights, they’re not difficult to find. Beavers lost eight different conference games this season by 18 or more points.
Tinkle insists he has the resources he needs to win at OSU. His athletic director has been supportive. The program has a practice facility, will charter most of the flights on conference road trips next season, and has the backing of the university’s preferred NIL partner, DamNation Collective.
“We feel really, really strongly about the fact that we don’t lack a whole lot,” Tinkle said.
Athletic director Scott Barnes told me on Wednesday morning in Las Vegas that he’s committed to Tinkle. He’s anticipating growth, development and “upward trajectory” next season. Given the financials involved, I’m not sure the AD has much of a choice.
“We obviously have work to do to bolster our current roster,” Barnes said.
The AD mentioned incoming recruiting classes and “portal opportunities” as roster building tools. Also, Barnes said he refuses to lower the expectations.
I find it interesting that Oregon State drew ASU as an opponent in the first round of the tournament. A year ago, Hurley was facing growing criticism from frustrated fans and successfully went all-in with the transfer portal. He pulled it off and deserves credit for the rebuild.
Is it sustainable?
Decide for yourself. I’ve wondered whether Hurley might seek a chance of scenery, choosing to rebuild again somewhere else next season. Or maybe he’ll just load back up with transfers and stay in Tempe. But his philosophy and ASU’s presence on the NCAA Tournament bubble presents an interesting contrast to the slow, steady rebuild that Tinkle chose.
I know everyone thinks “Elite Eight” when they think about Tinkle’s greatest successes at OSU. It’s understandable. His team caught lightning in a bottle a couple of springs ago. But I keep thinking about the very first rebuild Tinkle orchestrated in Corvallis.
It got him 19 victories and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. It set the stage for that Elite Eight run that came years later. But it also left the coach’s 6-foot-10 frame draped over a locker room chair like a blanket.
The guy knows how to scrap.
Good thing, too. Because he’s facing another one.
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