Too close for comfort? Wiggins’ return might make it awkward for Pebley

Fresno State women’s basketball players expressed much excitement about their former coach Adrian Wiggins returning to town.

Wiggins, the popular coach who helped transform Fresno State into an annual conference champion and a regular in the NCAA Tournament, might even come to a Fresno State game this season if his schedule permits.

Ex-Fresno State coach Adrian Wiggins after the Bulldogs won the WAC Tournament last year and advanced to a fifth straight NCAA Tournament.

He certainly would like to.

But would Wiggins’ return to the Save Mart Center create too much of a distraction for Fresno State?

Wiggins left Fresno State in March to coach at Ole Miss. Seven months later, he was fired. Then earlier this week, Wiggins resurface in Fresno by becoming the Clovis East High boys basketball coach starting next season.

Wiggins still remains much beloved by Fresno State players (many who he recruited), fellow coaches and administrators at the university and with Bulldogs fans.

Meanwhile, it’s obviously been a trying time for the Bulldogs while adjusting to new coach Raegan Pebley and the new system that focuses more on halfcourt play rather than the run-and-gun tempo and carefree, 3-point launching style that Fresno State once flourished with under Wiggins.

Fresno State did start to gain some traction lately and began Mountain West play with a huge road win at San Diego State, which was the preseason-conference favorite.

But until Pebley and her Bulldogs prove that they can succeed at least at the same rate as Wiggins and his Bulldogs did — maybe even win a game at the NCAA Tournament since that was one area Wiggins’ teams couldn’t achieve — there’ll be a portion of Fresno State fans who will want Wiggins back as the Fresno State women’s basketball coach.

First-year Fresno State coach Raegan Pebley has guided the Bulldogs to a 9-5 start, including a big win at San Diego State to start Mountain West play.

It definitely makes for a unique, if not an awkward situation for Pebley as she tries to establish her own place in the program, with her players and with the community.

Fresno State athletic director Thomas Boeh compared the Wiggins-Pebley situation to a retired coach staying in town while the new coach takes over.

Except in this case, the “retired coach” still has plenty of institutional knowledge, remains in the peak of his coaching

career, and has much support from many people.
“It’s mostly common for folks who’ve left a position to take a step back as a courtesy to the profession and to the program,” Boeh said. “We are very, very happy to have Raegan Pebley as our basketball coach. She’s a very high quality coach. We think she’s going to have terrific success.”