The Case For Tim Floyd


March 11, 2013 by Marshall Kelner

By Marshall Kelner

As everyone already knows by now after it was reported last week, former USC head coach Tim Floyd and current athletic director Pat Haden met for three hours. Whether this was just a meeting to restore Floyd’s reputation, or whether Haden actually is considering Floyd for the open coaching position is anyone’s guess. There is no point in speculating further on that because we won’t know for sure.

However, the meeting gave me at least a little hope that a Floyd return could happen, which is why I am writing this piece.

Some background: I came to USC as a freshman in 2007, the same year O.J. Mayo came to USC as a freshman. I was a big college basketball fan before I came, rooting for my home town Minnesota Golden Gophers, but I desperately wanted my new favorite team and future alma mater to be good in basketball.

I prefer college basketball to football, which is rare for someone who went to SC, I know. So, when I watched the Trojans get to the Sweet 16 in Tim Floyd’s second season the March before I arrived on campus, I got pretty excited. I knew we had a great new facility in the Galen Center, a coach who was building something special, and also that guy named O.J. Mayo.

My first year, the Galen Center was packed (especially for conference games). Not only was O.J. the type of star that people love to come watch in LA, the team was winning. As a student, I was in the band and also covered the team for the student radio station (KSCR, now KXSC) whenever I could as well. Tim Floyd, O.J. Mayo, Davon Jefferson, Taj Gibson, Daniel Hackett, and the rest of that team made me fall in love with USC basketball. I’ve been hooked ever since. If you ask some of my friends, maybe too hooked.

Anyway, that season obviously ended in disappointing fashion with a first round NCAA exit to Michael Beasley’s Kansas State squad. I was on the broadcast in Omaha, Nebraska for the student station.

Despite that, the next season Floyd brought in DeMar DeRozan, another stud. He didn’t really find his groove until the end of the season, but when he did it was special. Three wins in three days to win the Pac-10 Tournament at Staples Center, which included a 15-point comeback in the championship game against James Harden and ASU. I had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel with the band on the team charter back home to Minneapolis for the NCAA Tournament, something I’ll never forget. We dominated Boston College in the first round, and then lost a heart breaker to Michigan State in round two, a team that went all the way to the national championship before losing to UNC. When the team and coaching staff entered the charter back to LA, we gave them a round of applause for their unbelievable heart and the amazing run they made at the end of the season. I still remember how dejected Floyd looked getting onto that plane. He hated losing and thought his team had a chance to go very far, as a 10 seed that got hot at the right time.

Floyd could never have imagined at the time that the Michigan State game would be the last he would coach for USC. And now, hopefully it’s not. Why did I just ramble on about my emotional experiences with USC basketball? Well, for one, I’m known to do that. But in all seriousness, I did it to show you what a good coach and a relevant program can do at USC. It can create fans for life.

I’m not going to get into all the stuff that went on with O.J. off the court. That’s more than well publicized. All I’ll say is this: Tim Floyd was accused of no wrong doing by the NCAA. I know we have unfortunately become a culture of guilty before innocent on occasion, and we like to accuse people of serious things before all the facts are known. Now, however, an investigation by the NCAA has been done and the facts as best as we will know them are out there. Tim Floyd did nothing wrong. Period.

A quick caveat: I am assuming Butler’s Brad Stevens and VCU’s Shaka Smart are very unlikely to take the USC job if offered. I really hope I’m wrong. If either of those two say yes, you have to make that hire. However, other than those two (and obviously the established legends), Tim Floyd would be my next choice.

Another caveat: I don’t think Floyd is going to be USC’s next men’s basketball coach. Do I think it’s possible? Sure. I completely understand Pat Haden’s desire to bring integrity back to USC after all that went on with football and basketball. If he decides he doesn’t want Floyd because just his name will bring back memories of a dark day in USC history, I totally get that. However, I think that if spun correctly, USC could easily justify re-hiring Floyd and look great in the process. If I were AD, I would call up Tim Floyd and say the following: “The previous administration messed up. You were run out of here unfairly. I support basketball much more than my predecessor. Here is triple the salary you are making at UTEP (Floyd reportedly makes $600,000). Come finish what you started.”

Here are the 10 reasons I would love Pat Haden to make that phone call (these aren’t in any particular order):


Photo by Bobak Ha’Eri

1. Despite his short four-year tenure,  Tim Floyd is the most successful coach in USC basketball history.

He went 85-50 (.629) at USC, but that record doesn’t come close to describing what he accomplished. All you need to know is these two simple facts: Floyd was the first USC coach to ever take his team to three consecutive NCAA tournaments and Floyd was the first USC coach to ever lead his team to three consecutive 20-win seasons. Period, end of story. Other coaches obviously had more longevity at SC, but no one has had the consistent success Floyd had. The consistency is so key. You don’t want a program that is competitive every four years. You want consistent success, year in year out. Floyd was just getting started, which I’ll get into more below.

Bottom line is, Floyd has won wherever he’s gone. Not at a Coach K level, or anything like that, but at a consistently very solid level. He went 35-25 in his two years (1986-88) at Idaho to begin his head coaching career, and then the real winning began. Six seasons at New Orleans (1988-94): 126-59 (.681), four conference championships, and two NCAA appearances. Four seasons at Iowa State (1994-98): Three straight 20 win seasons and three straight tournament appearances in his first three seasons, including a Sweet 16 appearance. Funny, that seems similar to what he did at USC. He’s currently in his third year at UTEP. His first season there, Floyd went 25-10, narrowly missing the tournament. He’s been rebuilding these past couple years, and has an outstanding recruiting class coming in next year.

Floyd’s overall head coaching record coming into this season was 367-208 (.638). USC could do a lot worse than re-hiring someone with a track record like that.

2. Floyd is one of the better recruiters in the country.

Someone who wants to take an unfair jab will say something like “Floyd cheats” or he doesn’t do it the right way. I’m not going to waste my time addressing those claims, because they are just that, unsubstantiated claims.

I will admit that when it comes to O.J. Mayo, Floyd didn’t originally intend to recruit him. Mayo came to Floyd. However, one of the reasons he did is because of Floyd’s NBA background and the fact that Mayo thought Floyd would be someone who could help develop his game in his brief college career.

Floyd’s recruiting prowess goes far beyond Mayo, though. DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson, Nikola Vucevic are just three guys Floyd himself recruited that are now succeeding in the NBA. More on that later. He doesn’t just recruit future NBA stars, but very solid college players as well. Daniel Hackett, Dwight Lewis, Marcus Simmons are a few names USC fans will recognize.

If you put any stock in recruiting rankings (I put a fair amount in them for the record, but still wait until years after to fully evaluate), Floyd fares exceptionally well. Just take his UTEP class for next season, which is ranked 30th right now by ESPN. That’s above Ohio State, Villanova, UCONN, and Oregon. The class includes Isaac Hamilton, the #4 shooting guard in the nation and #29 player overall. And where is he from? Funny, Los Angeles, and Saint John Bosco High School.

How were Floyd’s classes ranked at SC? ESPN lets you go back to 2007, Floyd’s third year, so let’s start there. #1 ranked class that season. In 2008? Somehow, ESPN didn’t have didn’t have SC in its top 25, but Rivals had the Trojans at #20. If anything, this proves Floyd can not only recruit players that the recruiting services like, but also under the radar guys. In that 2008 class, Nikola Vucevic, Leonard Washington, and Donte Smith were all unranked. Vucevic is now in the NBA, while Washington and Smith both made solid contributions when they were at SC.

Unfortunately, Floyd’s best class (2009) was one that never came to fruition at SC. It included Derrick Williams, Lamont Jones, Noel Johnson, and Renardo Sidney. Some will also mention Solomon Hill, but he never signed a letter of intent and went back on his verbal commitment as soon as Sidney singed (very long story there). That class, which materialized late in the process, ended up being ranked in the top five by most services. Mention it to a USC hoops die hard, and they will still cringe because of the possibilities that class had. Of course, a large portion of the class, most notably Williams, ended up at Arizona and two years later in 2011 led the Wildcats to the Elite 8.

3. Floyd comes up with innovative schemes and game plans, especially on the defensive end.

I know, I know. The last thing a USC hoops fan wants is another defensive coach, after suffering through the Kevin O’Neill era. However, the cliche of “defense wins championships” is still as true as ever. Obviously, the caveat is you have to be efficient enough offensively as well. The best teams are able to create a lot of their offense off their defense also.

Floyd’s teams were consistently ranked near the top of the conference in all the major defensive metrics. I won’t bore you with the numbers here, I’ve probably done enough of that already. What I will say is that he wasn’t afraid to break out new defensive schemes if the situation called for it. A large portion of that comes from his right hand man, assistant coach Phil Johnson, who is still with him at UTEP and undoubtedly would return to USC if Floyd came back. In the Mayo year when SC played a Memphis team that starred Derrick Rose (and lost in the national championship to Kansas), Floyd broke out the triangle and two. The Trojans lost in overtime at Madison Square Garden (they also lost a tight game at home to Kansas that season). In the Pac-10 Tournament championship game in 2009 when they were down 15 at half, Floyd put on the full court press, something he rarely did. It was critical in USC getting back into the game and eventually winning. He did stuff like that all the time.

USC, again in large part thanks to Johnson, was usually more prepared than the opponent when Floyd was the head man. Their scouting and film work was some of the best in college basketball.

Offensively, Floyd’s teams were efficient. The Sweet 16 team in 2006-07 shot 47.6 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from beyond the arc. The Mayo team was similar, and the DeRozan team shot about the same from the field, while struggling from distance. Bottom line though: Floyd knows his X’s and O’s.

4. Floyd gets players to the NBA.

I touched on this earlier, so I’ll be brief here. In four seasons at SC, Floyd coached six players who got drafted into the NBA, as well as several others who went on to play internationally. Those six were Nick Young, Gabe Pruitt, O.J. Mayo, DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson, and Nikola Vucevic. Daniel Hackett and Davon Jefferson were among those to go overseas.

5. Floyd has NBA coaching experience.

Although Floyd didn’t have a lot of success as an NBA coach, the fact is he still has that experience on his resume. I think he deserves a mulligan for his stop in Chicago, considering he replaced Phil Jackson following Michael Jordan’s retirement. Enough said. He actually did go .500 (41-41) in his one season in New Orleans though, and made the playoffs.

There’s no question Floyd’s NBA experience attracts recruits, especially the top of the line guys. Many elite prospects want someone who has an NBA background because they know it will help them make the decision on when to leave college, how to best appeal to scouts, how to make the emotional adjustment after college, etc.

6. Floyd would want to stay at USC for the rest of his career.

This is a big factor that shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are a lot of impressive names that have been thrown out there, aside from Stevens and Shaka, which I mentioned above. Some are realistic, some aren’t. One who I think is very realistic is Mike Hopkins. There is a ton to like about this guy. A ton. I would be thrilled if Pat Haden hired him. For more background, click here. The quick bio: He is the legend Jim Boeheim’s top assistant at Syracuse and has been for awhile. He went to Mater Dei high school. He has recruiting connections on both coasts and all over the country. He’s young. And there’s plenty more that you can read about yourself. He’s extremely impressive.

I think he would be a star at USC, but for how long? If Syracuse comes calling after Boeheim retires (whenever that is), would he jump ship? What if another elite program comes after him? The same goes for other top young assistants, or even someone like Shaka Smart.

As for Floyd, when he was at USC the last time, he said he wanted it to be his last job. Coaches say that all the time, but I truly believe that was the case before he unfairly got run out by Mike Garrett. Floyd is now 59 years old. He’s had his chance in the NBA, as we covered earlier. The main reason you can count on Floyd staying for the long haul though, is that he absolutely loves USC.

His work ethic in recruiting and coaching in games (just look at how quickly the coat comes off) is unquestioned. He had that same passion for USC from the day he took the job. Here is all the evidence you need to know: After the 2008-09 season, which turned out to be his last at SC, Floyd met with Arizona and Memphis about their vacant coaching positions. Arizona even reportedly offered him the job. By the way, click on that link and you will find an unbelievably horrible quote from then-AD Mike Garrett. Absolutely unreal!! There were even false reports that Floyd had taken the Arizona job.

Anyway, Floyd decided to stay at USC. Here is the money quote: “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.”

The saddest thing of all? After Floyd eventually resigned thanks to Garrett, Arizona ended up with his prized recruiting class and went to the Elite 8 two years later. If Floyd had left for the Wildcats, he likely would have taken all his recruits with him. Instead, he was out of a job, Sean Miller went to Arizona and got his recruits, and now Floyd’s at UTEP (no disrespect to them, but they are not Arizona). Hopefully now, he can come back to USC and continue to build an Arizona-like program.

7. We know what we are getting in Floyd.

I think this is obvious, but it’s still critical to mention. Floyd has proven success overall and proven success at USC specifically. No other candidate has that. In fact, most of the other candidates are either assistants who have never been head coaches (Hopkins, for example) or small school head coaches looking to move up (Shaka, Gregg Marshall, etc). Some would argue we know what we are getting if we stick with Bob Cantu as well, but that isn’t entirely true. Although he’s been at USC for awhile as an assistant, his head coaching experience is limited to half of this season and one game in 2011. Not exactly a huge sample size.

8. Unfinished Business. 

I hate to bring the phrase up because I know it makes everyone who is associated with USC cringe, myself included. The reason is obvious, no explanation needed. However, if you really want to talk about unfinished business, look at what Tim Floyd was building.

I have mentioned that amazing 2009 recruiting class several times. We saw what Arizona did with it. USC was on the rise, right on the cusp of becoming a consistent national contender. If Floyd had been able to get some people to stay just one year longer (Davon Jefferson, in particular, for the DeRozan year) the Trojans could have accomplished that feat even sooner. I don’t think there’s any doubt it was about to happen, though.

We have taken a detour since those days, but there’s no reason we can’t get back on that road. There is no dead end.

9. USC has the chance to right a wrong. 

I could write a very long essay about how poorly Tim Floyd was treated by the previous administration under Mike Garrett. That’s not necessary because I think it’s well known by now, at least among USC hoops fans and supporters, that he got the short end of the stick. If you need some background though, go here. It’s actually sickening.

I understand that most national people hear Tim Floyd’s name and immediately associate him with Mayo and the illegal activity that occurred. However, as I said in the opening, if spun correctly by USC, they could look amazing by making this hire. The previous administration ran a good man and a good coach out of town. Pat Haden could prove that not only is he committed to doing things the right way and making USC a bastion of integrity, but also that they are willing to admit past mistakes (even if Haden wasn’t in charge then) and do what they can to fix them.

Obviously, in this case it has to make sense for the program, and I’ve tried to make the case that it does. Not only that, it’s a chance to do the right thing for a man who coached his heart out for USC, conducted himself with integrity, and was the most successful coach the Trojans have ever had.

10. Floyd would make USC basketball relevant again.

When I went to a game or called one during my freshman and sophomore years at USC, there was a buzz in the building. I think anyone who went to an SC game during those years, and the year before, will agree with me on that. There was a feeling we were watching a team that could compete with anyone. We were watching a program truly be built before our eyes. We were on the national radar.

With all due respect to Kevin O’Neill, who treated me unbelievably well as a member of the media, my last two years as a student at SC didn’t have that same feel. That’s despite the fact that USC made the NCAA Tournament my senior year (and lost to VCU in the first round, who made that incredible Final Four run).

The Galen Center is such a huge reason why the USC job is attractive, among many other reasons. The building was completed when Tim Floyd was the head coach. It gave USC a chance to compete in basketball again. So did Floyd. In fact, Floyd did so much more.

Let’s give him a chance to finish the job.

Bring. Floyd. Back.

One thought on “The Case For Tim Floyd

  1. […] Pat Haden thought highly enough of Floyd’s credibility to discuss USC’s basketball coaching vacancy during a three-hour meeting in March of […]

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