Jay John compiled a record 72-97 in his five-plus years leading the Oregon State program. - AP

Beavers fire head coach John

CORVALLIS — Jay John reached into his right pants pocket on Monday afternoon and pulled out four tangible reminders of better days, of times when he was a coach on the rise and he was considered an ascending star just waiting for his first Division I opportunity.

He displayed the four conference championship rings he earned as an assistant coach at Butler and at Arizona, hardware that helped — a little, anyway — to salve the sting of his Sunday night dismissal as Oregon State's men's basketball coach.

"I did bring out all my rings and carry them with me, just to remind myself that things have not gone in vain, that I've been blessed and there will be more opportunities," John said Monday afternoon in an impromptu farewell interview in the media room in the basement of Gill Coliseum.

Earlier, he'd said goodbye to his players in the plush Gill Coliseum locker room he raised the money to build. Minutes later, he entered Room 5, stepped onto the lectern for the final time, and tried to summarize how if felt to be leaving a job and a school he felt "blessed" to have worked for.

He prohibited television cameras and struggled at times to keep his composure, clear evidence of how much the job meant to him and how badly he wanted to succeed where his three immediate predecessors had failed.

"I was blessed to be part of Beaver Nation for almost six years," he said. "I've always felt that way. I was given a great opportunity that not very many people get a chance to do.

"There are inherent challenges here, and I did my darnedest to try to stare them down and barge through them. There have been some real positive things that have happened in my time. But it's a bottom-line business, and that wasn't enough."

John said he did not expect to be terminated when he left Seattle after the 83-74 loss to Washington on Saturday, and he did not elaborate on the Sunday morning conversation with athletic director Bob De Carolis that ended in his dismissal.

"That meeting was private," he said.

John was 72-97 in five-plus seasons at OSU and directed the Beavers to the 2005 NIT and their first winning record since 1990. However, OSU was 6-12 overall and 0-6 in the Pacific-10 Conference this season, and the increasing apathy and dissatisfaction among OSU fans ultimately led to his dismissal less than 24 hours after the Washington game.

He was replaced by his best friend, former associate head coach Kevin Mouton. They've been close for more than 20 years since first meeting at the University of Oregon in 1985-86, where John was an assistant and Mouton a player under Don Monson.

John said he was hurting. But as he told the team, he remained true to his beliefs, didn't walk in anyone's shadow and leaves OSU knowing he didn't disrespect the job by ever giving less than 100 percent.

"You point the finger at yourself. If you fail or succeed, it's on me," he said. "I lived as I believed, and from that standpoint, I'm fine. It's hard on my family. For this 5-foot-11 and change body and soul, I'm pretty proud of what I've been able to get out of it in my (49) years.

"One thing that hurts is, I wasn't around (this team) long enough to help them find their heart and soul and get the most out of what they have to offer. That's the most enjoyable part of coaching. To not have a chance to do that with the guys, that does hurt."

John said he did not know what his future plans entailed. He has two-plus years remaining on his contract and is owed more than $1.1 million, to be paid in monthly installments through July 1, 2010.

"I don't know, we'll see," he said."I've put my family through a lot with all the moving around" typical of head or assistant coaches in his profession. "Coaches dive into stuff, you're running on adrenaline so much, but your family isn't.

"They've got to live the life. Everything is rosy and easy when you win. When you're not, it's not as fun for them. They have to go to school and whatnot ... my son (Trevor) has been a ballboy, so he hears a lot of stuff."

John said he approached every day with the idea it could be his last in coaching, that someone could replace him or another program could get an edge if he overlooked or failed to do something.

"I've always approached things with respect for the opportunity because maybe I wasn't going to get another opportunity," he said. "That mind-set has worked pretty well for me."

John chuckled wryly when asked how he was different than he was six years ago, when he arrived in Corvallis after four consecutive NCAA appearances as an assistant at Arizona.

"When you're an assistant coach, boy, you think you've got all the answers," he said. "You find as the head coach that you sure don't.

"I put my heart and soul into everything in my time here ... I'm just wiser. I'd like to erase a couple decisions along the way, but wouldn't we all. Wouldn't we all."

Brooks Hatch covers Oregon State basketball for the Corvallis Gazette-Times

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