Seattle University hires men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford away from Eastern Washington

If you can’t beat them, hire their coach.

In the past four years, Jim Hayford tormented Seattle University when he led the Eastern Washington men’s basketball team to a 5-1 record over the Redhawks, including three straight wins.

On Wednesday, Seattle U plucked him away from the Eagles in a move that delivers an 18-year veteran head coach with 360 career wins, a track record of rebuilding floundering programs and recent NCAA tournament appearance.

“I humbly move into this position with a desire to lead a championship program that graduates outstanding leaders,” Hayford said in a statement released by the school. “The history of the basketball program here is rich and unique. We will work tirelessly to build a program that will return Seattle University to the NCAA Tournament.”

Hayford, who will be formally introduced as the school’s 16th men’s basketball coach during Thursday news conference, is the first coaching hire for SU athletic director Shaney Fink, who took over in September.

She fired Cameron Dollar on May 13 after the Redhawks went 13-17 this season and was sixth in the WAC at 5-9. He was 107-138 at Seattle U and had just two winning seasons during his eight-year tenure.

Sources with knowledge of the situation said Hayford emerged from a group of five finalists that included Ken Bone, the former head coach at Washington State, Portland State and Seattle Pacific University, who spent this season working with the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

The Redhawks interviewed candidates over the past few days and Hayford won over school administrators with a plan to revive a listless SU program the way he did Eastern Washington. He was 106-91 (.538) during six seasons with the Eagles, which had one winning season during the previous seven years before his arrival.

After his first three years in Cheney, Hayford had a 41-54 record. In the past three years, the Eagles have averaged 22 wins while making three straight postseason appearances, including the 2015 NCAA tournament and consecutive trips to the College Basketball Invitational.

“Coach Hayford has a history of success in developing programs that compete on the national level,” Fink said in a statement. “He is a proven winner, a committed educator, and a passionate leader, and we are excited for him to bring that blueprint of success here to Seattle U.”

During the 2014-15 season, Hayford and the Eagles gained national attention after claiming an 88-85 upset victory at Indiana. That season, EWU won the Big Sky Tournament to make its second ever trip to the NCAA tournament. The Eagles were ranked third in the nation while averaging 80.8 points and finished 26-9 — the most wins since moving to Division I in 1983.

This season, Eastern Washington finished 22-12, including a pair of wins over Seattle University. The Eagles were second in the Big Sky at 13-5 and lost in the first round of the CBI.

Prior to joining EWU in 2011, Hayford spent the previous 10 years at Division III Whitworth where he won 79 percent of his games and compiled a 217 — 57 record.

In 18 years as a head coach, Hayford, who turns 50 in May, has a 360-175 record, including a two-year stint (1999-01) at NAIA Sioux Falls.

“My first task at Seattle U is to come alongside these players and get to know them while doing all I can to aide them in becoming the best players, teammates, leaders and students that they can be,” said Hayford, a reputed recruiter who filled Eastern Washington’s 2016-17 roster with seven international players and five in-state products. “I have accepted this position because I feel the potential of this program is great and can capture the devotion of basketball fans in this great city.”

The Redhawks lose three starters and four seniors. They return 11 players, including guard Matej Kavas, the WAC Freshman of the Year winner. Seattle U’s 2017 incoming class consists of West Seattle guard Nate Pryor and Seattle Prep guard Aaron Nettles.

Meanwhile, Eastern moved quickly and promoted associate head coach Shantay Legans to replace Hayford.