Standing at a podium on the basketball court with a giant “Welcome to the Matadome” sign as the backdrop, Mark Gottfried was introduced as Cal State Northridge’s coach on Tuesday.
The last time he was recruiting L.A. it was 1995, when UCLA won the national championship and he was an assistant. He went on to become head coach at Murray State, Alabama and North Carolina State.
He said when he first arrived from the Midwest in 1988, at 23, to be a graduate assistant at UCLA under coach Jim Harrick, “I didn’t know a human being in this town.” He also didn’t know about the 405 or 101 freeways and took turns living in West L.A., Calabasas and Woodland Hills.
He’s about to enter culture shock. The median home price in the San Fernando Valley in 1995 was $165,958. In January, it was $643,783. The 405 and 101 have added a little more traffic.
But at least one thing is the same: CSUN, which last week fired Reggie Theus, is still struggling to become a winning basketball program.
Gottfried received a six-year contract with a base first-year salary of $400,000, according to a CSUN official. Although he lacked specifics, Gottfried made it clear that the 79-year-old Harrick is likely to be involved in helping turn around a program that has made the NCAA tournament twice since moving to Division I in 1990.
“We’re going to get there,” Gottfried said.
“When you recruit the right kind of people, you can turn everything around,” Harrick said afterward. “I used to tell my assistants, ‘You got three jobs. Recruit, recruit and recruit.’ ”
Gottfried spent six years as coach at N.C. State until he parted ways with the program last year. He said he and CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison discussed the FBI’s ongoing college basketball investigation and the allegations that former Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith Jr. received loan money from an agent.
“I don’t foresee any red flags that I’m aware of,” said Gottfried, who has been working as a scout for the Dallas Mavericks.
Gottfried said he wants to restore pride and success at CSUN, something he believes he has done at each of his coaching stops.
The repeated challenge at CSUN has been trying to lure top players from Los Angeles and elsewhere to a commuter campus where many in the community are more devoted to following UCLA and USC.
Longtime high school basketball coach Derrick Taylor of Woodland Hills Taft said, “That’s a tough job. No one has been able to figure out winning on a sustained level.”
Gottfried has accepted the challenge.
“I hope I’m here for a long time,” he said. “Great things can happen here.”