By Jim Weber
I will never claim to be smarter than USC athletic director and former Rhodes Scholar Pat Haden, but the way he’s already botching the search for a men’s basketball coach is just flat-out stupid.
In case you were hiding under a rock yesterday, reports surfaced that Haden recently met with former Trojans head coach and current UTEP head man Tim Floyd about returning to Los Angeles and that Haden has already interviewed Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins about the job. Floyd has since denied it was an interview, although it sure sounded like a canned response.
Whether Floyd’s meeting was an interview or not, let me count the ways in which Haden has already fumbled this coaching search:
#1: What About Bob?
Interim head coach Bob Cantu has done an excellent job since taking over for the fired Kevin O’Neill in January. At the very least, Haden should stop undermining the team’s current head coach by meeting with candidates for Cantu’s job in early March.
Keep in mind, USC was a disastrous 7-10 when Cantu took over, including losses to UC Irvine and Nebraska. Since then, USC has a 7-5 record in the Pac-12 that includes wins at UCLA and over Arizona. A well-respected coach who has yet to turn 40, Cantu’s earned the right to finish the season and then be considered as a permanent head man based on his body of work.
#2: Why the Rush?
Meeting with Floyd and Hopkins before the regular season has ended reeks of desperation. There’s no need for that. While USC will always be a football school, it’s basketball job is also top notch: USC men’s basketball coach is a glamorous position with great facilities and it’s located in a great conference on fertile recruiting ground.
Instead of Floyd and Hopkins, Haden’s short list should include big names like Pitt’s Jamie Dixon (a Los Angeles native), St. John’s Steve Lavin (a former UCLA head coach and Southern California recruiting ace), Memphis’ Josh Pastner (a rising star in the profession), former Sacramento Kings head coach Reggie Theus (currently coaching the NBDL’s Los Angeles D-Fenders) and former L.A. Lakers head coach Mike Brown (who is still owed $11 million on his NBA contract) – just to name a few.
Who knows, the Lakers’ current head coach, Mike D’Antoni, might even be a candidate in a couple months.
There’s no reason to come off like USC is hitting the panic button by talking with Floyd and Hopkins before college basketball’s season even ends.
#3: Unneeded Distraction
Look at the media circus that has already ensued following Haden’s meeting with Floyd that turned into national news because it was so bizarre.
Haden should have known a three-hour meeting like this had a good chance to get out in the media. And whether it was a job interview or an informational interview, this kind of negative publicity is the last thing the USC athletic department needs – especially the basketball team still finishing its regular season. Remember, the department is still in the wake of the Reggie Bush scandal and Haden was explicitly brought in to clean things up after Mike Garrett’s controversial tenure.
Even if Haden was just meeting with Floyd to help in his coaching search, it brings back ugly memories from Floyd’s time in Troy. That includes accusations of oversigning players, packaged deals with coaches and players and the O.J. Mayo scandal. Floyd was never personally implicated by the NCAA, but there was enough stench from Floyd’s association with notorious events promoter Rodney Guillory to fill the Galen Center.
Look, I’m not saying Floyd is a bad guy. In fact, when I reached out yesterday to Marcus Fizer, who played for Floyd at Iowa State and in the NBA, he gushed about Floyd as a coach and as a person. But drama seems to follow Floyd wherever he goes, and that’s the last thing USC needs.
At the best, Haden made a really stupid mistake by meeting with Floyd and interviewing Hopkins about USC’s head coaching job in early March. At the worst, Haden is borderline insane for even thinking of bringing Floyd back.
In either case, it’s fair to ask, “How could someone so smart be so dumb?”
Top photo: Dwight Lewis/USA Today Sports
Bottom photo: Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports