Trojans Pick O'Neill for Stability
He returned to the NCAA to be Lute Olson's assistant at Arizona but then became the interim coach when Olson took ill and missed the 2007-08 season. Apparently, O'Neill was lobbying to get Olson's job permanently and he was not asked back to Olson's staff for the next season.
So USC athletic director Mike Garrett has decided on O'Neill to stabilize and bring respectability back to its program. It's an odd hire because O'Neill has never been known as a stabilizer or someone who stays put.
"Kevin is the consummate coach," Garrett said on the school's Web site. "He knows his X's and O's, he's an excellent recruiter and he is very in tune with the academic side of a player's collegiate experience. He's a no-nonsense coach who is very detail-oriented and prepares his teams well. And he stresses defense -- another philosophy we share since I've always believed that defense wins championships. His 30 years of experience at the college and professional levels has prepared him well for this opportunity."
Garrett wanted to make a splash with this hire but he was in a difficult position because most top-notch coaches were not going to leave their programs in June. According to reports, he reached out to Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh and NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy, but O'Neill emerged as a top candidate because he has extensive college and NBA experience.
Said Garrett: "I am convinced that in Kevin, we have found the right coach at the right time for our great institution -- a proven winner at the professional and college level who has demonstrated over the years that he recognizes that what happens off the court is equally, if not more important, than what happens on it."
O'Neill will inherit a shell of a program that has lost two recruits entering next season and has been decimated by the departures of Taj Gibson, DeMar DeRozan and Daniel Hackett as well as Marcus Johnson. The NCAA is investing improprieties regarding football player Reggie Bush and former basketball standout O.J. Mayo. There have been no penalties assessed but the school could be headed for major sanctions.
"I recognize that USC basketball has been through a tough time lately," O'Neill said. "Like many college basketball fans, I have been following the developments in the media. One thing I expect people might second-guess me on is whether I made the right call in taking this job. While all of us at USC are prohibited by the NCAA from discussing details of this ongoing investigation, I want to assure you that I made my decision only after a thorough evaluation."
He added that the NCAA investigation won't alter his plan to become a national power.
"I'm sure I am also going to be asked whether the NCAA investigation involving basketball is going to hurt recruiting or the program in general," he said. "Let me just say that if I thought I wouldn't be able to do my job -- do the job that the University expects of me and equally important that I expect of myself -- I wouldn't have taken the job."