USC and Athletic Director Mike Garrett were looking for a pitch they could hit out of the park to help the suddenly-reeling basketball program at the University regain its footing.
But Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, said no. Rumors are so did Reggie Theus, Jeff Van Gundy and Lon Kruger (of UNLV).
So rather than keep swinging for the fences, USC went for a solid single. They got that with the hiring of Kevin O’Neill.
USC fans are not thrilled, because O'Neill is not thrilling. But our advice to the fan base — if you can't get the coach you love, then love the one you get. USC ended up bringing home what it could get right now.
O’Neill’s resume isn’t bad. He has coached at the NBA level, once as the headman at Toronto and most recently as an assistant in Memphis. He has been the head coach in college at Marquette, Tennessee, Northwestern and briefly in Arizona in the wake of Lute Olsen stepping down. O’Neill’s teams have never been a big success in college — he has a career 171-180 record, basically a .500 guy. That said, he has a reputation as a pretty good recruiter.
And he is thought of as a defense-first guy. It means his teams don’t usually get embarrassed, but his style of play borders on dull. And that often means you don’t get the sexy recruits (unless you’re Ben Howland over at UCLA). Already one verbally committed recruit to USC pulled out and said it was because he didn’t like the style of play coming to the program.
O’Neill is going to have a lot of trouble recruiting with NCAA sanctions — stemming from former coach Tim Floyd’s dealings with OJ Mayo and more — hanging over the program. This is still a Pac-10 school in a major market, it’s not like trying to recruit to Boise. The problem is really good players with options are going to look elsewhere.
Which is kind of the position USC found itself in trying to recruit a coach. So it went with a safe, uninspiring play to ride out storm of limited quality players — three key players from last year declared for the NBA Draft — and the recruiting challenges (three recruits for next year have already asked and been granted release from their letters of intent). Right now, just nine players are under scholarship.
The good news is that O’Neill will not be a disaster. He likely will not be taking the team to the sweet 16 either. But you take what you can get. For now.