No other coach has had a more unique path to this year’s NCAA Tournament than Dan Monson, and the humor of the situation isn’t lost on him.

“Did you see the ‘Seinfeld’ when George was trying to get fired and couldn’t lose his job, still going to work every day? That’s me,” Monson told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “I’m a ‘Seinfeld’ episode going on right now in real life.”

“It felt like we had let him down. ... We knew that we had to prove them wrong. I think Coach taught us that you have to play for each other and not with each other. I think that’s a really powerful statement. It’s really a big difference.”

—  Long Beach State guard Jadon Jones on the firing of coach Dan Monson

Fired by Long Beach State a week ago but permitted to remain with his team through the end of the postseason, Monson’s Beach squad caught fire to capture the Big West tournament title, storming into the NCAA Tournament field as an automatic bid to face No. 2-seeded Arizona Thursday afternoon in Salt Lake City.

“To (fire Monson) before the tournament, it hurt,” Long Beach State guard Jadon Jones said. “It felt like we had let him down. ... We knew that we had to prove them wrong. I think coach taught us that you have to play for each other and not with each other. I think that’s a really powerful statement. It’s really a big difference.

“... We were going to play for the betterment of the team, for coach. We want to make sure he was going to enjoy his last season and go out on a special note. We rallied together. We decided that we’re going to do whatever it takes. We’re just going to trust in the process and the coaches and live with the results.”

The 62-year-old Monson has spent 17 seasons at Long Beach State, with this current tournament appearance the second he’s made with the program. Monson previously piloted Gonzaga to an Elite Eight berth in 1999 before taking the head job at Minnesota for just over seven seasons.

But this magical run into the “Big Dance” has been a thrill unlike anything Monson has experienced.

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“It’s worth every job I’ve ever had to have the experiences I’ve had this week with my players, with my family, spiritually, everything,” Monson said. “Going to the locker room (to) tell the players, it was super, super hard obviously, but to see their reactions. ... You don’t really know how they’re taking it until they tell you they love you or they show you. Those guys showed me they loved me that day. I’ll never forget it. That’s all you need.

“I’ve reflected this week that I don’t have a job, but I don’t need one. I got everything I got with my family, with my players, with my friends. It’s been a life-changing week in a good way. Next week I have a car payment, house payment. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I don’t really care.”

Long Beach State ended the regular season with five straight losses, seemingly left for dead upon the start of Big West tournament action. While his players responded to his firing by playing their best possible basketball, Monson found a new, refreshing perspective from his circumstances to couple with the Beach’s tenacious urgency on the court.

“Sometimes you need to step back and say, ‘I’ve got it pretty good.’ This has helped me to do that,” Monson said. “It’s been a very emotional, spiritual, however you want to put it. I’ve been on my knees this week more times than not. It’s been very good to know that I’m in a good place. I’m looking forward to next year. I don’t even know what it is. As I tell my players, I’m not worried about anything but tomorrow. We’re trying to stay in the moment. Staying in the moment has been pretty good to us this week.”

Long Beach State players practice at the Delta Center hosted by the University of Utah for the upcoming NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News