CORVALLIS When Mike Riley describes his initial impressions of Wayne Tinkle, one of the phrases he uses is "down to earth."
Maybe it's no surprise that when Tinkle, Oregon State's new basketball coach, is asked the same question about veteran Beaver football coach Riley, "down to earth" are among the first words out of his mouth.
"I've noticed that about a lot of the Oregon State coaches -- very grounded," Tinkle said Monday at his office in the OSU basketball facility. "There are some who have a reason to have an ego, but don't.
"I'm not an ego guy. That was a big attraction in my decision to come here. It felt like a family unit, which is the way things were at Montana and what we want to continue to be a part of."
Athletic director Bob De Carolis was looking for a hire who would fit into the "culture" established by such successful coaches as Riley, women's basketball's Scott Rueck and baseball's Pat Casey.
Tinkle still has to win games, but De Carolis got the "fit" part of it right.
"He's a great fit," said Rueck, who has already had dinner with Tinkle in Corvallis. "He seems like a guy who understands what Oregon State is and will do a great job building a program here, very similar to some other programs. We made a great hire."
"We've been texting and trying to get a golf game together," Tinkle said. "We'll have a chance to get out there. I'm looking to learn a lot from Scott and some of the other coaches exactly how they have had success here and what it takes, and add that to what we do."
Rueck recruited Tinkle's middle child, Elle, who is now a sophomore playing at Gonzaga.
"I was really impressed not only with Wayne but the entire family," Rueck said. "Elle was one of my favorite phone conversations of all the kids I've ever recruited. It's a first-class family."
Riley and Tinkle took part in two of the stops on the recent "Beaver Nation" tour of OSU alums and boosters, touching down in Seattle and Portland together. Riley said he got a good feel about the newest member of his coaching brethren.
"Wayne is a very easy read, a good guy," Riley said. "He's very excited about the new job. He's very confident. He was at a place (Montana) for a long time. He has a lengthy resume there, and it's all very solid. He's a solid person. You can see it in meeting him.
"I always brag when I talk about the coaches in our athletic department. They're really good, and they're good people, and they're at Oregon State for a reason. We all like to think we do, but I'm pretty sure this guy will fit in real good with the overall staff."
Tinkle said Casey joined a dinner group of his one night soon after he was hired, "which was an amazing gesture in how busy he is this time of year," Tinkle said. "That was real nice of him."
Tinkle hasn't missed any of Casey's games in the Corvallis regional.
"We only had a club team at Montana," Tinkle said with a smile. "That's why I am so enamored. I'm a huge baseball guy. That was my first love when I was growing up. My first two years in high school, I pitched and played first base and left field before I started playing basketball year-round."
Tinkle has made a point of getting out into the public and meeting alums, supporters and students. He had an informal meet-and-greet prior to one of the regional games.
"They set up a tent and had a bunch of chairs, and people just gathered around," Tinkle said. "I gave my little intro why I'm excited to be here, answered a few questions, and then a bunch of people just wanted to say hi and shake my hand. That was neat. It's been a fun part of this. I've had a real warm reception."
Tinkle said he understands the thirst Beaver Nation has for a winner in men's basketball, which hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1990
"I've been told by a number of people they don't want to hear about a three- to-five-year plan," he said. "They want success right now. But I think most people understand what's at hand."
Tinkle's coaching staff is almost in place, waiting for official confirmation from the school. He has decided on two assistants -- Kerry Rupp, who was with him at Montana, and Gregg Gottlieb, who coached under Mike Montgomery at California and under Steve Fisher at San Diego State. "I'll take another day or two to decide on the third coach," Tinkle said.
All five starters from Craig Robinson's last team are departed. What remains is a mishmash of talent, with seven returnees led by sophomore guard Malcolm Duvivier, swingman Langston Morris-Walker and big men Daniel Gomis and Cheikh N'Diaye. Also on board are incoming freshmen Chai Baker of Malone, Fla., and Gary Payton II from Salt Lake (Utah) Community College. Tinkle is still talking to two other Robinson recruits -- center Isaiah Manderson and forward Cameron Oliver -- but they are also considering other schools.
There will be no seniors on next year's roster, which now numbers nine players. Tinkle said he may add one more scholarship player to replace guard Hallice Cooke, who is headed for Iowa State, "but I'm going to be careful signing guys at this point just to fill out the roster."
Instead, Tinkle will complete the squad with walk-ons and save scholarships -- at least three -- for next year.
"Who knows where we'll be a year from now?" he said. "If everybody can step up and meet the standard we set, great -- we'd love that. But inevitably, there will be a guy or two who aren't cut out or aren't on page with it.
"The guys we have here now have character. They're going to play hard. But we're going to have to add some pieces. Hopefully we can do that in 2015 and '16."
Duvivier and N'Diaye are members of the Pac-12 all-star team that will tour China in August. Robinson was originally set to coach the team, which will now be headed by Utah's Larry Krystowiak -- who, ironically, played with Tinkle at Montana.
"I like what I've seen of Malcolm," Tinkle said. "He competes. He wants to be good. Works his tail off. I can tell his teammates love him, which tells me a lot.
"We worked out with Cheikh a little bit last week. He has potential, but he has a ways to go. He is pretty good around the basket, but he has to get a better body and to get a better feel for the game. It'll just take time."
The 6-10 Gomis had a rod taken from the leg he broke twice in previous years.
"Daniel still has to be careful with what he does," Tinkle said. "It seems like there's some instability in there. If we can get him through this summer and he's OK to go, great, but I don't want it to turn into a nagging deal."
Tinkle is excited about the prospects for Payton and Baker, who will both play immediately.
"Gary is a thin, long guard who can play multiple positions, maybe even defend four positions," Tinkle said. "He's tenacious and athletic, a competitor on both ends. He has to get a little better body, but he works, so he can get into the weight room. Chai can shoot it. He has good size, he's an athlete and makes plays off the dribble."
Tinkle said he has exchanged text messages with Payton's father, the Hall-of-Famer and ex-OSU great.
"We agreed that when I get my feet firmly planted on the ground here, we'll have a conversation," Tinkle said.
Tinkle indicated his son, Tres, could wind up playing his senior year of high school in Corvallis instead of finishing out in Missoula. The 6-7, 210-pound forward is expected to be among the nation's top 100 recruits next year.
"He's weighing those options," Tinkle said. "What it's going to take is him spending some time here this summer, getting to meet some friends. Coach Casey's son (Joe) and several others have reached out to Tres on Facebook. It'll be good to get him hooked up with some guys in town, so he can realize there are good people here, too, and he can make new buddies."
Tinkle hasn't bought a house yet in Corvallis -- that will probably happen when wife Lisa arrives after school is out in a couple of weeks. But he already has a new cell phone number, with a 541 area code.
"Bob said I could keep the old one, but nah," Tinkle said with a wink. "I'm an Oregonian now."