Tue Jun 23 11:00am EDT
OK, so Kevin O'Neill wasn't USC's first choice. As a matter of fact he wasn't even mentioned until the 11th hour, when, all of a sudden, free of the usual preliminary "sourced" reports that have two sides "closing in on a deal," USC made it clear that the former Arizona and current Memphis Grizzlies assistant would be their first coach in this bold new possibly-sanctioned era. Surprise, surprise.
Before O'Neill, speculation ranged from P.J. Carlesimo to Jeff Van Gundy to Reggie Theus, who appeared to be the job's frontrunner until he wasn't offered the position. But above them all stood Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon. USC athletic director Mike Garrett wanted Dixon so badly he was willing to be rejected twice, exerting the sort of unrequited love that spawns so much of our society's great literature. In the end, Garrett was spurned, and so he did what we all must: he moved on. He settled, if you must be so cynical, mother. Kevin O'Neill was his backup plan.
And don't think O'Neill doesn't know it:
O’Neill, the coach, was charming. Garrett, the athletic director who hired him was, uh… Garrett. "I really felt elated about the fact that this is a person who was available," he droned in his usual monotone.
This is my favorite part, by the way. When introducing his new basketball coach for the first time, Garrett praised his ... availability. He was available! Taken literally, Garrett's standards for hiring rank somewhere just above McDonald's. Naturally, this made O'Neill feel incredibly desirable:
O'Neill glibly acknowledged that he wasn't the first choice for the position, then pointed to his wife and joked that he wasn't her first choice, either. But Garrett denied it, telling reporters later, "Kevin was my first choice because when I started talking to him, he's the one that I wanted to have. He's the guy who fit what I needed."
Such effusive praise. "Hey, Dad, I can't see too good. (*Moves glasses up and down sarcastically.*) Is that Dickie Vitale over there?"
Garrett may not be the most enthusiastic gentleman in the world, but as the Los Angeles Times points out, that's not a prerequisite for hiring success ... if only Garrett had success. He's responsible for hiring Pete Carroll, but only after he wanted Dennis Erickson (ouch), Mike Bellotti (eh) and Mike Riley (double eh). Tim Floyd was only hired after Rick Majerus backed out of the job a week into his tenure. Floyd has an argument to make as the best USC basketball coach of all-time, which would be fantastic had he not just left the program under the such inauspicious circumstances.
Anyway, if Garrett isn't so excited about landing Kevin O'Neill, he can be forgiven. Most USC fans ought to feel the same way.