As “USC Coach Fired” trends on Twitter, many an interested member of the legion of Troy sports perked up. “Which coach” must have been the knee jerk response? It couldn’t be the end of Lane’s World, a strange and bewildering jumble of twists, turns, and unrealized expectations, at least for the past season. USC AD Pat Haden assured SC fans of one more year of the Kiffin-tastrophe, mainly on the shoulders of QB phenom Max Browne and an impressive freshman class ready to burst onto the FBS scene.
Alas, the basketball coach, veteran Kevin O’Neill, could not shake the specter of a 7-10 start and will no longer head the squad after four years at helm. The looming shadow of a 6-26 record from last season proved far too long for an athletics program still in shock after their pigskin sting in El Paso. Although the Trojans are 2-2 in the Pac-12, a one game improvement on their 1-17 offering last season, Haden desperately wanted to “re-energize our team” with the change to assistant coach Bob Cantu, who will serve in the interim until a permanent replacement is found. A noted recruiter, Cantu has stood on the USC sideline for 12 seasons and should provide some stability to the program through what is always a bumpy transition. A win at Utah snapped a 14-game losing streak away from campus, but the team has dropped 9 of its last 13, suffering through a 5-game losing streak during that stretch.
The return of injured point guard Jio Fontan and the presence of three 7-footers, including the talented and energetic Dwayne Dedmon, should produce better than a team wading below .500. A veteran team of 12 upperclassmen, including senior Eric Wise, team-scoring leader at 50% from the field and 47% from distance, must utilize their experience and score more than 257th in the NCAA at a tick under 64 points per game.
Coaching changes are a part of the basketball landscape, especially in LA, and the Trojans immediately face an opponent in Oregon that has only dropped two games all-season and are a perfect 3-0 in the Pac. Their starters all average at least 10 points per game and can play from in front or even come from behind, as they did in their last contest against Arizona State.
The Trojans have their work cut out for them. Will this regime shift ignite a team on the brink, or plunge them further into basketball oblivion? Pat Haden decided to make the change out of necessity, to provide a spark for a team trapped in the doldrums. Thursday night on ESPNU at Galen will present an interesting test. If USC competes, even stays close, then their effort could be the new measure for a team hoping to turn their fortunes around.