O'Neill not the right choice for USC gig

June 23, 2009

In all fairness to USC athletic director Mike Garrett, it wasn't as if established, proven coaches were beating down his door for the job.

Not with an ongoing NCAA investigation, a team that has been basically ravaged of talent and the potential for major sanctions as the result of allegations that former coach Tim Floyd paid O.J. Mayo's "guy" $1,000 in cash.

Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, a Southern Cal native, turned the gig down more than once. UNLV's Lon Kruger didn't take it.

But Kevin O'Neill? Wow.

I didn't see this one coming, but I should have since Garrett was so focused on bringing on a guy with NBA experience.

First of all, in his defense, O'Neill is a tireless worker who knows the game — There's no denying that fact. He's also considered a defensive guru and a guy who is considered clean by NCAA standards.

But he's not right for the college game.

Just ask anyone on that Arizona team from two years ago.

You won't find a single player — except for maybe Nic Wise (whose playing time dramatically increased under O'Neill) — who has anything positive to say about him.

Current NBA player Jerryd Bayless despised him. Ditto for Chase Budinger.

"He's a great guy off the court, but he's bipolar or something," said one of his former players. "On the court, he's a madman."

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I don't doubt that USC is in desperate need of a disciplinarian — and O'Neill fits the bill. But he's also far from the model of stability.

Here's a guy who actually admitted to a throng of media that he didn't even talk to his assistant coaches — now Memphis head coach Josh Pastner and former Wildcats assistant Miles Simon — during the games.

That's arrogance.

O'Neill basically had the Arizona job handed to him on a silver platter. All he had to do was keep his mouth quiet and wait until Lute Olson called it a career.

But O'Neill couldn't do it — and instead of being the head coach in Tucson right now, he was run out of town by Olson.

O'Neill landed as an assistant in the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies, but lasted less than a full season after head coach Marc Iavaroni was fired and O'Neill was demoted to a scout.

If Garrett was trying to win the press conference on this hire, he came up well short.