USC's talks with Tim Floyd about possible return speaks to coach's role (or lack of) in NCAA probe
In the recent annals of college sports it is virtually unheard of for a coach to be hired by the same school twice. You come, you leave (regardless of the reason) and you never return.
While there's an occasional second run for an aging legend – Kansas State rehiring football legend Bill Snyder – it's extremely rare.
This would seem even more rare for a coach who resigned in the middle of a wild NCAA investigation citing a lack of support from his administration.
Yet two weeks ago in Phoenix there was Tim Floyd, who coached the University of Southern California basketball team from 2005-09, meeting with the school's current athletic director, Pat Haden, and athletic department CFO Steve Lopes about a potential return engagement in Los Angeles.
They talked for three hours and, according to an industry source, left open the possibility of meeting again when the season is over.
It was an interview that, from the outside, was as unexpected as it was telling about Floyd's role (or lack thereof) in NCAA allegations about the program when he was in charge.
Floyd resigned from USC following the 2008-09 season because he didn't feel supported by then-AD Mike Garrett. Garrett was fired a year later.
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Floyd publicly maintained his innocence throughout the process, and while 21 victories from his final season were vacated because guard O.J. Mayo accepted benefits from an agent, neither the coach, nor his assistants, were cited for any major wrongdoing by the NCAA. The NCAA did not even place the basketball program on probation. Garrett previously self-sanctioned the program – likely an unnecessary move because the Mayo situation was determined to be about eligibility, not compliance.
A year later, Floyd was hired by his current employer, UTEP, and went on about his business. He's 56-39 in two-plus seasons with the Miners and has one of the nation's top-20 recruiting classes arriving next fall. That group is headlined by five-star guard Isaac Hamilton of L.A.'s St. John Bosco, which sits about 15 miles from USC's campus.
All along, Floyd has tried to point to the results of the NCAA investigation and UTEP's due diligence in hiring him as proof of his innocence. That remained difficult for outsiders to grasp, however, because he left a Pac-12 job and wound up in Conference USA.
USC's new administration – the highly regarded Haden replaced Garrett in 2010 – presumably understands the situation better than anyone. That they are interested in potentially rehiring him is his best piece of evidence of all.
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When reached Tuesday, Floyd confirmed he met with USC, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. He did so, in part, he said, because he wanted to help lift what he felt was a stigma about the program during those years. He understood the significance of just being interviewed.
"I've neither been offered the job, nor said I'm even looking for a new job, but I felt it was important to talk to [Haden and Lopes] for our former players at USC and former coaches at USC," he said. "Obviously Pat did his homework on what really happened."
One industry source said the idea of at least speaking with Floyd came about after the USC administration fired coach Kevin O'Neill in January in the middle of another listless season.
With time to plot a new course for a program that more often than not struggles compared to its legendary football team, the idea was broached about finding someone who could do what Floyd had done. Floyd went 85-50 overall and made three NCAA tournaments in four seasons at USC.
Eventually, they wondered if the best move wasn't just to see if the original act could put together a return engagement. After all, Floyd left because he didn't believe in an AD that, just a year later, the school decided it no longer believed in either.
"We had a very nice conversation," Floyd said, declining to discuss the details or offer further comment.
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For his part, Floyd always expressed great confidence he could survive any NCAA inquiry.
He had plenty of opportunities to jump the Trojan ship when the NCAA descended. In the spring of 2009, Floyd turned down job offers at both Arizona and Memphis to stay at USC, confident in the program's future. Only months later, in June, he cited a change in support from Garrett and decided he'd rather work nowhere than under those conditions.
Whether USC eventually rehires Tim Floyd, or if Floyd leaves UTEP, or if there is even another interview, the mere fact it went this far is perhaps new ground in college athletics.
These days, the stigma of an NCAA investigation may no longer be so troubling, even – or especially – at the very school where you endured the investigation. The very school that might know you the best of all.
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