RELATED LINK: Bruce Pascoe of The Arizona Daily Star has comments from UTEP coach Tim Floyd about coaching tonight against Arizona, a conference rival while at USC, including this quote about Sean Miller: “He was a coach’s son; I was a coach’s son. I coached against Sean when he was a player at Pitt, and I’ve followed his career. I’ve always marveled at the greatness that’s come out of Xavier and the coaches, and Sean is the latest. I love the way he handles himself. I love the way his teams play, and he’s an ethical recruiter. Arizona got the right guy. They got the right guy. Everyone knows that. I know that.”
Welcome back, Tim Floyd. The Arizona program, as it turns out, is better than what you thought USC had to offer.
Floyd returns to Tucson on Thursday night to coach UTEP against Arizona at McKale Center. The last time he was in Tucson was on April Fool’s Day 2009, interviewing for the Arizona coaching vacancy with former athletic director Jim Livengood and president Robert Shelton.
The attempt to secretly whisk Floyd in and out of Tucson failed as TV cameras caught Floyd boarding a jet at Tucson International Airport. Reports out of California came earlier that day about Floyd’s trip.
The last thing Livengood wanted was news of a rejection by Floyd after reports of other coaches such as John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Jeff Capel, Lon Kruger and Travis Ford either passed on the opportunity or were not serious candidates.
After Floyd returned to Los Angeles, he voiced his commitment toward the Trojan program and talked about a contract extension, all within 48 hours. He reportedly had USC players at his house the night after his trip to Tucson. That does not sound like somebody who needed time to mull over his options.
“I felt that I needed to look at those two programs,” Floyd told reporters two days after the trip to Tucson. “I am at a point where I want to do something really special and I feel like I needed to go look at an elite program.
“But there is something really special about building your own traditions, your own histories and doing it with a group of guys that you love. … I have never been more excited to be a Trojan.”
Floyd said his contract remained unchanged but he wanted additional years.
“I have three years left on my contract,” he said at the press conference. “No, there have not been any changes made that I am aware of. I would like another year or two. I think that would be great.”
Floyd’s rejection of Arizona could be viewed as a ploy by him to increase the magnitude of USC’s program to the level of Arizona and UCLA. Recruits and their parents would think: Imagine how good the USC program must be if he turned down Arizona.
Floyd got what he wanted in the short term … the very short term. In the long run, Arizona got more.
Two months after spurning Arizona, Floyd was forced to submit his resignation at USC amid an NCAA investigation concerning allegations that he gave $1,000 in cash to a man who helped steer former star player O.J. Mayo to the Trojans.
Sean Miller was hired a week after Floyd spoke with Livengood and Shelton. The former Xavier coach lured three of Floyd’s recruits at USC — Williams, Lamont “MoMo” Jones and Solomon Hill — to Tucson to build a foundation of success.
Hill, who originally committed to Arizona when Olson was the coach, had not yet signed a letter of intent with the Trojans. USC released Jones and Williams from their national letters of intent. Jones originally picked USC over Arizona despite attempts by Miller and assistant coach Book Richardson to recruit him to Arizona.
Miller’s coaching and the play of Williams and Jones in the 2011 NCAA tournament enabled the Wildcats to reach the Elite Eight. After failing to make the NCAA tournament last year, it appears Miller has the Arizona program back on track. The Wildcats had a top three recruiting class entering this season and are ranked No. 12 in the AP Top 25.
USC, under former Arizona assistant and interim head coach Kevin O’Neill, was picked to finish ninth in a Pac-12 preseason media poll.
People have asked — and ESPN’s Andy Katz wrote — about Arizona’s program had Floyd been hired. Floyd would have been forced out because of the Mayo mess, leaving the Wildcats without a permanent head coach for three consecutive seasons (the UA was led by interim staffs in 2007-08 and 2008-09).
Katz compared the potential situation to Indiana’s dramatic decline after Kelvin Sampson’s transgressions were exposed by NCAA investigations.
Floyd never intended to be Arizona’s coach, so those disastrous thoughts carry no meaning.
Floyd can recruit and coach talent. He will be a winner at UTEP, where he is a perfect fit in a smaller town (he hails from Hattiesburg, Miss.). He was out of place in Los Angeles at USC, where he became blinded by his objectives there.
April Fool’s Day in 2009 was not funny at all. In fact, it was quite sad, not for Arizona, but for Floyd. He used the Arizona job to improve his position at USC in terms of stature and contract structure.
Much to his chagrin, that same school did not stand by him when he denied the allegations in the Mayo case. The NCAA cleared Floyd in 2010 of any wrongdoing.
“Why I left was not in any way an admission of guilt,” Floyd told ESPN.com. “It was a complete testament to a lack of support by my administration and how we were treated after four years of doing everything the right way.”
Floyd’s coaching again. Arizona is a top 20 program again under Miller. USC is a program struggling for an identity.
Everything is back to normal.
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner