Kent played for the Oregon Ducks from 1973 to 1977 under head coach Dick Harter. Nicknamed "Million Moves", he was a part of the Kamikaze Kids, known for constant hustle and extremely aggressive play in their attempts to win ball games. Knee injuries ended his collegiate career.
Kent played high school basketball for West High School in Rockford, Illinois. As a Class of 1973 senior, he was named Parade Magazine All-American, Scholastic All-America by Scholastic Magazine, Illinois High School Association (IHSA) All-State, received the American Legion Outstanding Achievement Award, and was a member of the National Honor Society.
Between 1980 and 1987, Ernie Kent spent his days in Saudi Arabia coaching basketball for the Al-Khaleej Club. Kent and his wife were immersed in Arab culture, living in a Shiite Muslim village for their first two years, also working for the Arabian American Oil Company in Dhahran. He recalls learning how to be patient, since a translator was required for communication with his team. It was a stressful period of his life and taught him how to deal with extreme pressure.
After returning to the United States from Saudi Arabia, he became an assistant coach at Colorado State University, then at Stanford University under head coach Mike Montgomery. He later went on to become the head coach at Saint Mary's College of California where he remained for six years. While at Saint Mary's, Kent's coaching relationship with the players changed drastically. His players told Kent that they could not relate to him due to his militaristic style. From that moment on, Kent reversed his stance and became more compassionate toward his players. He took his players before every season to go to a retreat, where his players bonded with each other, strengthening the cohesiveness of the team, a tradition he continued at the University of Oregon.
Kent was hired in 1997 to replace Jerry Green, who was leaving for a position at the University of Tennessee, Kent was the first African American head coach to be hired in the history of the Oregon Ducks athletic department in any sport. Under Kent, the Ducks reached the NCAA tournament five times, in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2008, reaching the Elite Eight in 2002 and 2007. He also led the Ducks to the National Invitation Tournament Final Four in 1999 and 2004. In the 2002 season, Kent led the team to its first conference title since 1939 despite the Pacific-10 Conference sending a record of six teams into the NCAA tournament. Under Kent, Oregon was known for playing an up-tempo pace and guard-heavy lineups.
As head coach, Kent was known for his recruiting ability, bringing in a class of highly regarded recruits in 2004 such as Maarty Leunen, Bryce Taylor, Chamberlain Oguchi and Malik Hairston. He was highly criticized for failing to sign two of the highest profile recruits to come from the state of Oregon for the class of 2007, Kyle Singler and Kevin Love. The following year, he signed the #21 recruiting class. During his tenure, he had four players drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft in Fred Jones, Luke Ridnour, Luke Jackson and Aaron Brooks.
A decline in the success of his teams between 2004 and 2006, the perceived lack of development of highly regarded recruits as well as rumors of personal issues led many people to question whether Kent would remain at Oregon after the 2005–2006 season. But after the season, the school's athletic director at the time, Bill Moos, issued a statement affirming his support for Kent. The team regained its composure the following year and finished the season within the Elite Eight in the 2007 NCAA tournament. Senior point guard Aaron Brooks said that he felt the team let Kent down the previous season for wanting to play in an up-tempo style but not conditioning for it. After the 2008–2009 season when Kent posted his worst record with Oregon, questions whether Kent would be retained resurfaced. Kent remained the head coach, but following a second-to-last finish in the Pac-10 in the 2009–10 season, Kent was fired.
On March 31, 2014, Kent was hired to replace Ken Bone as the Men's Basketball coach at Washington State University.
Ernie Kent was born January 22, 1955 in Rockford, Illinois and is married to Diana and they have three children: Marcus, Jordan and McKenzie. Jordan Kent was a three-sport letterman for the University of Oregon in track & field, basketball and football.
With his degree in community service and public affairs, he is also heavily involved in community service in Eugene, earning the 2004 Hope Award from the Oregon Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Kent is also active with the American Cancer Society and the Coaches Versus Cancer campaign while being the honorary chairman of the Children's Miracle Network.