It’s USC Basketball’s first game without Head Coach Kevin O’Neill, and that can only be good news. Not that Kevin O’Neill is not a good or qualified coach. He has had high profile jobs including time at Arizona and Marquette, and in the pros with the Raptors. But O’Neill’s record in conference is not what the Trojans had in mind when they hired him. He’s had his own difficulties post Tim Floyd, OJ Mayo, and an envelope. He has coached some talent. But with so many transfers and recruits lost (Derrick Williams) he never really stood a chance.
So Pat Haden took a page out of the book of one of his neighbors. It wouldn’t have been a long walk to deliver this book either. But Haden used the page Mitch Kupchak used with Mike Brown. Things were going poorly and rather than wait around and see if O’Neill could salvage it, Haden, like Kupchak, fired O’Neill.
The difference is that O’Neill was given a fair chance. This is the middle of his 4th season in Westwood. Brown got a season give or take some change. Pat Haden hopes another difference is that his team fairs better than the Lakers. The Lakers haven’t turned it around; they’ve survived. Surviving may be an improvement for this USC team. They can’t do much worse than they were doing with the veteran coach.
The danger with not firing O’Neill now was that he might turn it around. He had already doubled his conference win total from 2012. The Trojans hadn’t played a full 40 minutes yet, but they were competitive in their first 4 conference games, including 2 wins against Stanford and Utah.
The Trojans will undoubtedly experience a boost from this decision in the first game for interim head coach Bob Cantu. The Trojans will play with more energy and passion. Those really weren’t this team’s problems, but they are going to need it facing the hottest team in the conference, the Oregon Ducks. The Ducks might even have a little more swagger, thinking they could possibly be the best team on campus with the departure of Chip Kelly.
If O’Neill had been fired just before playing Washington St. or Oregon St., then they might even be the favorites for the win. But the Oregon Ducks score too many points and force too many turnovers for this team under new leadership. Barring spectacular and near impossible results, Bob Cantu will do a fine job and then be replaced at the end of the season.
But there is that chance the Trojans followed a bizarro-world page of the Knicks coaching book last season. A backwards offense-for-defense switch. When the Knicks fired Mike D’Antoni and went with Mike Woodson as the interim head coach, they took D’Antoni’d offensive principles and melded them Woodson’s defensive message. If Cantu has an offensive mind, he probably would have used it already—unless he was shrewdly waiting for this opportunity to take over. But melding O’Neill’s tough defensive approach with any offense has a few more wins guaranteed. Maybe even 2.