June 22, 2009
The big story in college hoops remains yesterday's hiring of Kevin O'Neill at USC. This is half because USC hiring a coach -- especially given its offseason -- is a big story, and half because past the early entry deadline, not a whole lot else is going on. So there's a lot of reaction available, and not just Tom Crean's.
The common reaction, were I to sum it up in a couple of words, would be: "Really? Kevin O'Neill?" And then, having asked that question, people basically talk about how much everyone who played for O'Neill hates his guts. (Not everybody writes this, though.) To wit:
Scott Cacciola, Memphis Commercial Appeal (go ahead and read this entire story, because it's amazing): O'Neill's favorite target at Tennessee, according to those in and around the program from 1994-97, was Aaron Green, a 3-point specialist from Cleveland, Tenn., whom O'Neill christened "Hee-Haw" and "Henry the Hick," nicknames that spread all over campus and clung to him like skunk spray for the duration of his career. "He'd always poke fun at me for being from the country," said Green, now a graduate assistant under Bruce Pearl. "The funny thing is, he was from the country, too. But I didn't feel very comfortable ragging him about it." That was probably for the best. O'Neill once made Green take his car home -- not home to his dorm. Home, as in back to Cleveland. "Looking back, he didn't want Aaron Green around," Johnson said. "Did everything in his power to get him to quit. I don't know why."
Jeff Goodman, Fox Sports: "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. [...] You won't find a single player ... 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." [...] 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."
Gary Parrish, CBS Sports: "But hiring a "defensive" coach to work in Los Angeles and across town from Ben Howland is incredibly shortsighted. Understand, the only knock on Howland is that he's a "defensive" coach who doesn't offer his players enough offensive freedom; that's what those who recruit against him try to sell to recruits. Does it work? Not terribly well, it seems. But still, that's the perception and the knock. And rather than try to take advantage of it, USC hired a "defensive" coach who has a history of butting heads with pretty much everybody he coaches or works with. Honestly, does that make any sense?"
Scott Wolf, Los Angeles Daily News: "O'Neill has developed a reputation as a love-him-or- hate-him coach with an attention to detail that sometimes became overshadowed by his fiery personality. During a game when he coached at Tennessee, O'Neill sent reserve Jason Moore into a game against Arkansas. After Moore made some errors and Tennessee lost its lead, O'Neill screamed at Moore, "You better hope you die before halftime!" Another time, O'Neill became so frustrated with a player during practice he sat in the stands for 15 minutes and booed him."
Rush the Court: "O’Neill led the Wildcats to a 19-15 record and yet another NCAA tournament bid in his single season in Tucson, but according to some sources had difficulty connecting with the Wildcat players. While that may be a problem at some programs, I’m sure that the administration at USC will appreciate having a coach of one of their two major programs who follows the rules. While we would normally consider USC one of the best positions in the country, O’Neill has his work cut out for him with recruits leaving in droves and NCAA sanctions on the horizon."
Ballin' Is a Habit: "A lot of people dislike this hiring (here is Parrish's reaction, here is Goodman's), but I think it is great. O'Neill is really known for two things: he is a disciplinarian, and he is a tireless worker. For a program like USC, that is basically starting over from scratch (yes, you are starting from scratch when Lil' Bow Wow Lil' Mama Lil' Romeo has a chance to start) with the dark cloud of the NCAA hanging over their head, what you need is someone who will take control of the program. And that is exactly what USC hopes O'Neill will do."
Conquest Chronicles: "It is obviously still too early to know what the ramifications will be with hire but as I said over the weekend the wasteland that is USC basketball was not going to get us a top fight coach. I have been reading and participating on some of the message boards and the consensus is that many USC fans want to give O'Neill a chance and now that he is named as our coach we need to get behind him and support him. I am fine with that. The decision is made and there isn't anything we can do about it. I also refuse to act like other websites did when coaches were hired that the fan base vehemently disagreed with. That gets us nowhere. We are where we are and there is nothing we will can do to change it so we need to just deal with it. The road ahead is still going to be very rough but that should not be a surprise to anyone."