On April Fools' Day, Tim Floyd had round-tripped it from Southern California to Arizona and returned with, if not an official job offer, then at least the understanding that the Wildcats' program was his for the taking.
Almost as soon as he returned he'd received a message from Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson, and so now the options grew. Floyd turned to his wife, Beverly, both products of the Deep South and asked a simple question:
"You want to live in Tucson or Memphis?"
Instead Floyd chose to stay, chose USC, chose what he thought was going to be a returning team and a star-studded recruiting class that could contend for a Final Four. He chose to continue running a program he'd built up over four seasons. He chose what could give him the one thing he'd long sought – on-court success to match his immense potential.
A little more than two months later Floyd resigned from the Trojans, marking the end of a cataclysmic run of news that severed an already frayed relationship between coach and administration.
Floyd went 85-50 over four seasons at USC.
(Harry How/Getty Images)
Floyd's decision to stick with the Trojans was doomed from the start. In the span of six weeks, six returning players and recruits left the program and Floyd dealt with an accusation that he'd paid an associate of former star O.J. Mayo.
In an instant, the contender he'd built up was in ruins and his reputation was under assault.
At the age of 55, with millions in the bank from his two stints in the NBA and waning interest for the job, Floyd chose to go fishing at his lakefront cottage in his native Mississippi.
"I deeply appreciate the opportunity afforded me by the university, as well as the chance to know and work with some of the finest young men in college athletics," he said in a statement released to the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.
"Unfortunately, I no longer feel I can offer the level of enthusiasm to my duties that is deserved by the university, my coaching staff, my players, their families, and the supporters of Southern Cal.
"I always promised myself and my family that if I ever felt I could no longer give my full enthusiasm to a job, that I should leave it to others who could."
And that was that, the end of an incredible spin of coaching fortune.
The allegation by Louis Johnson of the payment to Mayo handler Rodney Guillory was the final straw, but not the only one. Johnson was a former associate of Guillory. Floyd said Guillory had served as the recruiting middle man for Mayo, the program-changing recruit from West Virginia.
This spring, Johnson told NCAA and USC investigators that he believed Floyd had given Guillory $1,000 outside a Beverly Hills restaurant in February 2007. Mayo was a signed recruit at the time. Johnson had made the same charge to the FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office and the IRS in the spring of 2008.
Yahoo! Sports first reported Johnson's claim to the various investigative bodies last month, just days after the NCAA and USC became aware of the allegation. Neither Floyd nor USC has commented on Johnson's allegation.
“I always promised myself and my family that if I ever felt I could no longer give my full enthusiasm to a job, that I should leave it to others who could.”
– Tim Floyd
Even before that bombshell, it was apparent Floyd had made the wrong move in returning to USC.
The program had been reeling for nearly a year from an ESPN report that alleged Mayo had taken money from an agent through Guillory. The school is also embroiled in an NCAA investigation concerning agent activity with former football star Reggie Bush.
USC is a football school first and having the hoops program bring extra heat was dangerous for Floyd's job security.
USC made no effort to renegotiate his deal when Arizona and Memphis called. The school was willing to let him walk, likely tired of the near-annual job flirtations – LSU had called in the spring of 2008.
Still, Floyd thought he had a winner on his hands and at his age wasn't interested in rebuilding another program. He'd long vowed to retire early and had plenty of NBA money to facilitate it. He wanted to compete for a Final Four and USC, despite the troubles, was the place to do it.
He rolled the dice and almost immediately crapped out. Within weeks, four of his top players decided to test NBA draft waters. Then, according to a source within the basketball program, the school reneged on a scholarship offer to star recruit Renardo Sidney. (The Sidney family say they bailed on USC first.)
Sidney had moved from Jackson, Miss., to Los Angeles during high school and was dealing with speculation concerning his NCAA eligibility. UCLA, among others, had previously backed off him. Sidney eventually signed with Mississippi State, which has hired a law firm to work with the NCAA on any compliance issues.
Dealing with all of that, the writing was on the wall. Floyd's days were numbered in L.A. If not now, then at the end of what looked like a long 2009-10 season or the release of the NCAA investigation.
He decided not to wait. His resignation says it all.
Floyd released it to his home-state newspaper and turned off his cell phone. According to the Associated Press, the USC sports information department got word he quit by reading the Clarion-Ledger Web site.
According to Floyd's statement, he hadn't yet spoken to his staff or players.
"I intend to contact my coaching staff and my players in coming days and weeks to tell them how much each of them means to me," Floyd said. "I wish the best to USC and to my successor."
You can't leave tread marks out of town any better than that.
It's perhaps the only conclusion to a sudden collapse of a fast-rising program and a once-bright coaching career.