LOS ANGELES — At the start of a press conference introducing his new basketball coach Wednesday afternoon, USC athletic director Pat Haden made a startlingly honest admission.
"USC basketball should be relevant," Haden said. "But let's be honest, it has not been relevant for a while."
For the first time in a long time, there's reason to believe USC basketball has the elements in place to achieve that goal in the near future.
Seven years ago, USC traded the decaying Los Angeles Sports Arena for the state-of-the-art Galen Center. Three years ago, the Trojans replaced an athletic director who always seemed disinterested in basketball with one in Haden who insists he's committed to providing the resources necessary to win. And this week, Haden landed a coach who's part tactician and part showman, perhaps the right blend to capitalize on the resources available to him, attract top prospects from fertile Los Angeles and finally make USC basketball a hot ticket.
Andy Enfield, whose Florida Gulf Coast team became the first No. 15 seed ever to reach the Sweet 16 last week, is Haden's missing piece of the puzzle. The 43-year-old coach wasn't on USC's radar at the start of the search, but he impressed Haden with his appealing style of play, success as a program builder and knack for developing talent.
"There's no reason in my mind we can't be successful in basketball, but we just need a leader," Haden said. "When I looked at Andy, I wasn't just evaluating the past two or three weeks. I really looked at a life of success in basketball. Every stop along the way, every person I talked to said he has a style of play that's difficult to defend, his teams play good defense and he has a track record of player development."
As most would probably expect from someone with Enfield's background, the challenge of making USC basketball relevant doesn't faze him. He has beaten the odds enough times in his life to have faith he can turn around a program that went 14-18 this season, last won the Pac-12 title in 1985 and hasn't won consecutive games in the NCAA tournament since 2007.
Enfield graduated from prestigious Johns Hopkins University, enjoyed success in the business world as an entrepreneur and married a model who previously graced the pages of Maxim. Since transitioning to basketball, Enfield has risen from shooting guru for NBA players, to assistant coach at Florida State, to the head coach at Florida Gulf Coast, a rapid ascent culminating with him replacing fired Kevin O'Neill and interim coach Bob Cantu as USC's next coach.
"I wouldn't have taken this job unless I thought we could do special things here," Enfield said. "We're going to show up every day and try to make that happen. It's going to take some time. We have to develop a culture of winning. And we have to get talented players that can play at an elite level."
There are several facets of Enfield's background that made him an appealing choice to Haden once Pittsburgh's Jame Dixon and Memphis' Josh Pastner opted to remain at their respective programs.
He has a reputation for developing middling prospects into college standouts and streak shooters into perimeter marksmen, important skills at a school like USC that wants to win with three- and four-year players rather than one-and-dones.
He learned under Leonard Hamilton, a noted program builder who patiently built football-first Florida State and Miami into NCAA tournament caliber programs.
And his fondness for up-tempo offense and high-flying alley-oops could help USC basketball cut through the clutter in a basketball-saturated market that also includes the Lakers, Clippers and UCLA.
"When we started at Florida State, we had very limited fan support," Enfield said. "By the time I left, the place was packed. When I got to FGCU, we had 75 students at our games. Now we have 1,000 every game. When I got to FGCU, we played a women's and men's double header. Fans would come for the women's game and leave in the middle of the men's game. Now we pack the house.
"Look, basketball's entertainment. You have to entertain the fans and make them want to come. You play a slow-down style and you don't win, they're not going to show up."
The hire of Enfield is not without risk for USC. He only has two years of head coaching experience, he didn't win the Atlantic Sun regular season title either season at Florida Gulf Coast and he was a virtual unknown among Southern California high school and club coaches prior to his stunning Sweet 16 run.
Still, Haden is committed to making it work. The USC athletic director says the school can afford to pay whatever it takes for Enfield to hire the assistant coaches he targets and to travel to see the recruits he wants.
USC has enjoyed brief patches of winning here and there the past two decades, from the Harold Miner teams of the early 90s, to the Elite Eight run powered by Brian Scalabrine and Brandon Granville in 2001, to the NCAA tournament teams of Tim Floyd's era. Haden knows it will take Enfield a few years to rebuild, but he expects his new coach to one day enjoy sustained success instead of sporadic success.
"USC fans are embarrassed where the basketball program has been and are dying for sustained success," Haden said. "Tim Floyd had it going for a little while, then, boom, we fall on our face. Unfortunately we're rebooting again, but I see no reason why Andy can't get this thing going."