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SOUTH | NO. 12 LONG BEACH STATE VS. NO. 5 TENNESSEE

Reynolds lets record do talking

March 12, 2007|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

It's a time for celebration at Long Beach State, where the 49ers are preparing for a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995.

But it's also a time for contemplation about life without Coach Larry Reynolds.

Reynolds is in the final year of a five-year contract and has yet to receive an extension offer, and there is no sign that one is immediately forthcoming. Athletic Director Vic Cegles has repeatedly said that a decision will be made at the end of the year, but speculation is that the decision to let Reynolds go was made long ago.

But now what?

Long Beach State (24-7) is headed for the Big Dance, is seeded No. 12 in the South Regional and will play Tennessee in the first round Friday at Columbus, Ohio.

The 49ers have equaled the third-most victories in school history; one more would give them the most since the 1972-73 team coached by Jerry Tarkanian. It wouldn't seem to make sense to discard the coach after such a season, but coaching decisions quite often don't seem to make sense.

So Reynolds is preparing to tote his team to Columbus fully aware that unless the 49ers win both games, he might not have a job when he gets back.

"If this is the last hurrah, then so be it," Reynolds said. "I've done what I felt needed to be done. We won the Big West and got to the NCAA tournament. The rest is out of my control."

Part of the problem is that Reynolds is a holdover from a previous administration. Former athletic director Bill Shumard, who reported to former school president Bob Maxson, hired Reynolds. Cegles took over last spring when new school President F. King Alexander brought him aboard.

Saturday night, after winning the conference tournament, Reynolds sounded like a man whose fate had already been sealed when he publicly thanked Shumard and Maxson while conspicuously failing to mention Cegles or Alexander, who have the power to bring him back.

Sunday he said he felt he'd done enough to earn a new contract but was finished fretting over it.

"If I were the athletic director, I probably would give myself an extension," Reynolds said. "But the only thing I have control over is my team, so that's all I can worry about."

When Reynolds took over for Wayne Morgan in 2002-03, his team went 5-22. The next season, it was 6-21 and the season after that, it was 10-20.

But the tide turned last season after Reynolds landed a pair of community college transfers in Aaron Nixon and Kejuan Johnson. They propelled the team to an 18-10 season and achieved the ultimate goal for a mid-major program Saturday when the 49ers qualified for the NCAA tournament.

So as the 49ers head off to play Tennessee, a game that provides a favorable matchup for them, they go knowing it could be the last dance for Reynolds.

"It seems like I've been playing for Coach's job for a while now," said point guard Kevin Houston, a senior who was with the team for the 6-21 and 10-20 seasons. "There were times when it felt like we would never win a game, but Coach stuck with it and stayed confident. I'm proud of him."

peter.yoon@latimes.com

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