SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- At each stop in his 22-year head coaching career, Herb Sendek has built NCAA tournament teams.
After starting at Miami of Ohio and then turning around struggling programs at North Carolina State and Arizona State, Sendek faces a new challenge as head coach at Santa Clara.
Sendek was officially introduced as the Broncos' new coach Wednesday, tasked with building a program that can compete with Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and BYU in the top-heavy West Coast Conference and getting the school back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996.
"Those schools aren't going to come back to the pack," Sendek said. "We're going to have to step up to their level."
The Broncos have not been to the tournament since going three times in four seasons with point guard Steve Nash leading the way. They have watched Gonzaga dominate the conference since 1999, local rival Saint Mary's emerge as a power in the past decade and conference newcomer BYU pass them in the WCC hierarchy.
The struggles in recent years led to the firing earlier this month of Kerry Keating after nine years at the school.
"Obviously the last several years, the top third of the league has created a gap with Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary's," Sendek said. "What they've been able to do is remarkable. Those are outstanding college basketball programs, programs that can compete in any league in America."
Sendek was fired by the Sun Devils late last March after nine seasons. He has a 413-295 career record and has won coach of the year honors in the then-Pac-10, ACC and Mid-American conferences. Sendek led teams to the NCAA tournament eight times in his career.
Sendek said he was attracted to Santa Clara in part because of an increased commitment from the university to the basketball program. Athletic director Renee Baumgartner said a blue ribbon panel recommended more resources be devoted to the athletic department and that has led to a new Nike-designed floor at the arena, new locker rooms for the men's and women's teams and new offices for the coaches.
"I don't think that Herb Sendek is going to take a job at Santa Clara if he didn't see that we would invest and give him resources to be successful," Baumgartner said. "The timing is perfect to bring in a veteran coach and proven winner that really mirrors our values."
Sendek also has stressed academics in his career. At Arizona State, every senior graduated and his program posted a perfect 1,000 APR score in five reporting years.
Sendek started his college coaching career as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Providence and Kentucky and has helped develop players like James Harden (Arizona State), Julius Hodge (NC State) and Wally Szczerbiak (Miami) into first-round picks in the NBA.
Hodge will join Sendek's staff as an assistant, along with associate coach Barret Peery, who coached on Sendek's staff at Arizona State.
Keating never had the Broncos at the level of the top teams in the conference, going 139-159 in nine seasons. Keating won two lower-tier postseason titles in the 2011 CollegeInsider.com tournament and the 2013 College Basketball Invitational but never competed for conference titles.
Santa Clara finished 11-20 this season and came in seventh place in the WCC with a 7-11 mark.