USC fires basketball coach Kevin O'Neill

USC head coach Kevin O'Neill gives out directions to his USC team.

Photo by Saul Young

USC head coach Kevin O'Neill gives out directions to his USC team.

LOS ANGELES — Kevin O’Neill took over a troubled Southern California basketball team, getting the Trojans back to the NCAA tournament after NCAA issues kept them out in his first season while producing winning records twice in 3½ years. It wasn’t enough.

He was fired on Monday, with the Trojans 7-10 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-12.

“We just didn’t win enough last year and this year. That’s what this business is,” O’Neill told The Associated Press by phone. “We tried to do as well as we could, tried to get the program to the highest level. My goal every day going in there was to try to win a national title.”

O’Neill had previous coaching jobs at Arizona State, Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern. He has a 219-245 record in the college ranks.

He had a 48-65 record at the school known primarily for its powerful football program after going 6-26 last season while setting a USC record for losses.

Athletic director Pat Haden said the program needed new leadership.

“Despite a nice road win in our last game, I felt it was best to make a change now, with most of the Pac-12 season still ahead of us, in order to re-energize our team,” he said.

O’Neill was hired by Haden’s predecessor, Mike Garrett, who said at the time, “Hopefully he’s here forever.” O’Neill took the USC job after spending a season as an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies.

“Nothing in this business surprises me,” O’Neill said, adding that he and Haden “really didn’t have any discussions other than how the team is doing.”

Veteran assistant Bob Cantu will serve as interim coach while USC searches for a successor. Cantu took over for O’Neill during a Pac-10 tournament semifinal game against Arizona in 2010-11 when the coach was suspended after getting into a verbal confrontation with a Wildcats booster. He has remained on the staff through four coaching changes and is the longest tenured assistant in the Pac-12.

The Trojans lost at Colorado before winning at Utah to snap a 14-game road skid over the weekend. USC has lost nine of its last 13 games, which included a five-game skid.

“There’s been a lot of challenges in it but I really enjoyed my time,” O’Neill told the AP. “I’m thankful for my opportunity. I’m going to cheer for them every day.”

Upon arriving at USC in June 2009, O’Neill had to deal with the fallout from an ongoing NCAA investigation and school-imposed sanctions involving star O.J. Mayo, who played one season under Tim Floyd before leaving for the NBA.

The Trojans went 16-14, including a sweep of crosstown rival UCLA, and were in the hunt for the conference title until the final two weeks of the season. Sanctions imposed by the school in response to the NCAA investigation prohibited them from postseason play.

The next season, O’Neill lost three starters and four of his top six players from the rotation, but he guided the Trojans to a 19-15 record and an NCAA tournament berth. They lost in the first round to Virginia Commonwealth.

Last season, the Trojans were hard-hit by injury, leaving O’Neill with just six scholarship players for nearly half the season who managed to keep the team in most every game.

“It got really pronounced because we didn’t have freshmen or sophomores when I got here. Those classes were blank,” said O’Neill, who dipped into the ranks of junior college players and transfers to fill out the roster. “I thought our team was starting to come around and play better.”

He had a full complement of 13 scholarship players who were healthy this season.

“It was hard for me to evaluate him as a head coach until this year when he had enough players and veterans to compete,” Haden said.

O’Neill said he’s given no thought to his immediate future.

“Take a little time off, chill out a little bit,” said Oneill, who turns 56 on Jan. 24. “I might go to New York and visit my dad. I really don’t have any regrets, none at all.”

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Comments » 62

BrassMonkey writes:

TN needs to follow suit.

pcorange writes:

Let's not get down on CCM too quickly, BrassMonkey. This team would be a lot better with Maymon in to help out. That said, if we don't learn how to adjust to what we have and score by the end of the season, then you may be right.

laraccoon writes:

while this vol team can be painful to watch at times i believe the Oneil years at U T were the most painful of all. if i remember correctly it was a challenge for U T to get the ball past half court in those days , literally .

volboy81 writes:

ahhhh, but Kevin is such a nice guy and treats everyone so kind!

lstbodeanvol writes:

GO VOLS.....GO COACH MARTIN !!!! wish we had maymon but will have to wait till next fall...as for USC..one down and two to go :)

DonK37920 writes:

in response to laraccoon:

while this vol team can be painful to watch at times i believe the Oneil years at U T were the most painful of all. if i remember correctly it was a challenge for U T to get the ball past half court in those days , literally .

No Question. TB Arena was empty. The team played some of the best defense ever but we couldn't score. I still remember ONeill kicking the Revco sign beside the bench several times a game and the building was so empty everyone there would be kind of startled. "What was that loud sound?" "Oh it's just our crazy alcoholic coach kicking the Revco sign".

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Hmmm I wonder if he'd come back.

kjav writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

Hmmm I wonder if he'd come back.

Looking at our team you might think he did.

huntined#565710 writes:

Bet he was cussing when he went out the door!!!!

PUL4VOLS writes:

This is great news, wow I am so excited this is reported....Oh Sorry, I thought it was the football coach, never mind.

Classof72 writes:

Haden is halfway there; he needs to fire one more head coach.

gillblog writes:

in response to Classof72:

Haden is halfway there; he needs to fire one more head coach.

Technically, you're correct, but wouldn't it be really satisfying to see 'that guy' remain at USC? Just think, years of disappointment and embarrassment for an arrogant, over-hyped football program and the entire SEC could look on with the greatest pleasure.

rocky_topper writes:

We have a Kevin O'Neil of our own. You should report on ours.

born2ride writes:

Josh Pastner to USC.

tennrich1 writes:

I remember when Kevin stormed off the court at halftime, ripped his sports jacket off and threw it in the garabage can that sits at the end of the bench....a student manager pulled it out of the can and Kevin put it back on for the 2nd half....Once went to an open practice session at the SEC tournament with the Vols and carried my 8 year old with me...We had to leave after 15 minutes or so because Kevin was using curse words I had never heard...Very disturbing for an 8 year old...

CantStandCantStandSaban writes:

I'm sure he'll be able to find a job working as Larry David's stand in.

brod writes:

kevin o'neill is abrasive. funny but abrasive.

sly_stone99#434111 writes:

Imagine the expletives that came out of Kevin's mouth when word came down.

billwall writes:

He was good enough to beat us. This is how bad we are now. Pat tried fervently to talk Kevin into staying at UT before he left.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Promote CCM.
Bring back Bruce.

Brought to you by the Tennessee BBB (Bring Back Bruce) committee.

Razor784 writes:

in response to CantStandCantStandSaban:

I'm sure he'll be able to find a job working as Larry David's stand in.

I heard he already has a job as George Costanza's stunt double

1vavolfan writes:

in response to volboy81:

ahhhh, but Kevin is such a nice guy and treats everyone so kind!

Yeah, he told Aaron Green he was never going to recruit any more white players because of him and he was actually one of the best players on the team. In fairness USC had a very tough early schedule.

Lizardgrad89 writes:

in response to gillblog:

Technically, you're correct, but wouldn't it be really satisfying to see 'that guy' remain at USC? Just think, years of disappointment and embarrassment for an arrogant, over-hyped football program and the entire SEC could look on with the greatest pleasure.

Yep. The Lame Kitten is fine right where he is. There are so few coaches that can take a team with the talent to win the whole thing and go 7-6. He has a special gift, and he's with the perfect team for it.

ashvol7 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

Hmmm I wonder if he'd come back.

I hope the school is not crazy enough to have him back,some of the worst basketball ever!

KVCrockett writes:

Glad that MONTE got away from Lane. I believe the NFL is where he should have stayed.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Just in case some think I really want O'neal to comeback here? No offense to O'Neal but Martin's doing fine so far with what he's had time to build. I honestly can't say I've agreed with all his decisions but so what. I don't see the team up close each day like he does.

btw what's Swiper gonna do for a coach? Poor kid just runs 'em all off...or vise versa.hehe

madrigal writes:

Is USC where former Vol coaches go to die?

jt45 writes:

in response to gillblog:

Technically, you're correct, but wouldn't it be really satisfying to see 'that guy' remain at USC? Just think, years of disappointment and embarrassment for an arrogant, over-hyped football program and the entire SEC could look on with the greatest pleasure.

Good point and Tee can stay on the Lane train headed for nowhere while watching from the caboose.

born2ride writes:

I remember when Kevin O'Neal coached here and he snuck off in the middle of night. He got upset because football and women's basketball were more important.

manoffewwords writes:

BBB = BRING BRUCE BACK!

Basketvol writes:

in response to BrassMonkey:

TN needs to follow suit.

I agree. UT should wait at least three years before making a decision on Coach Martin. That's what you meant, right?

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to billwall:

He was good enough to beat us. This is how bad we are now. Pat tried fervently to talk Kevin into staying at UT before he left.

He beat us - and by a big score - when PEARL was the coach. It was his last or second to last year, if I recall correctly. So, that's not where we are now, that's where we were then under PEARL when Pearl was in the process of disintegrating before our eyes.

creekroad writes:

Ah...O'Neill, a reminder of the past and lessons not learned on why we shouldn't knee jerk on changing coaches.....oh for the days of Coaches like Don Devoe and Phillip Fulmer....really now, are we better off?

smokeygrowl writes:

ONEIL WAS QUOTED AS SAYING "GD IT MF SOB F IT *%&^%###****

eVOLved writes:

in response to pcorange:

Let's not get down on CCM too quickly, BrassMonkey. This team would be a lot better with Maymon in to help out. That said, if we don't learn how to adjust to what we have and score by the end of the season, then you may be right.

we have a great coach, and please recognize assmonkey as a troll

smokeygrowl writes:

ONCE SAID TORREY HARRIS WAS NOT ALLOWED TO SHOOT FOR FEAR OF BREAKING BACKBOARDS LOL

vol98champ writes:

T B Arena is one of the best in the country. Tennessee high school basketball is far better than football. I don't have an opinion on Martin yet. So far so-so. My question is why do we have coaches like Houston, O'Neill, Pearl, and Martin? I watched Pearl loose to my daughter's alma mater, the Univ. of Indianapolis.

doctorvol#211700 writes:

shocking, shocking, I say.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

KO was a great defensive coach, not so much on the offensive side of the ball though..The guy was a bit obtuse and rubbed everyone the wrong way as well.

FanNotSheep writes:

Martin the man is nothing like K.O. and we should all be grateful for that.

DeVoe was a really good coach but a so-so recruiter and he struggled to adapt to the shot clock. Purists miss those good old days of college basketball but it wasn't always fun to watch.

Today's college game often reminds me of restrictor plate races in NASCAR: Basketball's version of the two-car draft tandem is the dunk/3-pointer. We can always hope things improve for two sports that seem to be losing their way.

UT had the best basketball coach we are likely to ever have, but we lacked the guts to stand up to the NCAA and keep him. The road to hell that began with the humiliation of Fulmer may have been paved with good intentions, yet here we are. It would be a funny joke to say that Bama fans apparently passed us on our way DOWN but it hurts too much seeing them on the UP elevator, especially with a coach whose name is so similar to Satan.

I hope to live long enough to see both sports that I used to love get back to where Fulmer and Pearl carried them, but I wonder if I will.

FanNotSheep writes:

in response to vol98champ:

T B Arena is one of the best in the country. Tennessee high school basketball is far better than football. I don't have an opinion on Martin yet. So far so-so. My question is why do we have coaches like Houston, O'Neill, Pearl, and Martin? I watched Pearl loose to my daughter's alma mater, the Univ. of Indianapolis.

I also watched him beat Memphis, Texas, Kentucky, Florida and other teams ranked at or near the top of the sport. Every great coach has a bad day, or even a down year, but it takes the worst kind of so-called fan to try to tear down the guy who did more good for the school's men's basketball program than anyone alive over a bad game. I would sincerely hate to think you are a parent of a child who ever brought home anything other than an A.

FanNotSheep writes:

By the way, lose is spelled with one o. You would think you, of all people, would know that.

See, looser means the opposite of tighter. Loser means …

stevefrommemphis writes:

in response to born2ride:

I remember when Kevin O'Neal coached here and he snuck off in the middle of night. He got upset because football and women's basketball were more important.

If I remember correctly, I think the announcement was actually made official by the cashier at the Pilot station on Alcoa Highway, who called a sports talk show to say that Kevin O'Neill was just in the store, he had his signature on a receipt, and O'Neill said he was headed to the airport and was not coming back.

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

in response to emailnodata:

Promote CCM.
Bring back Bruce.

Brought to you by the Tennessee BBB (Bring Back Bruce) committee.

Not if we ever play USC. Pearl went 0-2 against the Trojans. They blew us out in LA 77-55 and beat us the next year in TBA. Ironically, both losses were to Kevin O'Neill's teams. O'Neill looked like Red Auerbach against Brucie.

volaholic45 writes:

KO's TN teams couldn't get a ball in bounds against a tight press to save their souls.

But he did stand on a chair and give the Vandy faithful the double bird salute.

Good times.

troken writes:

Bruce Pearl to USC!!!

SeaBassHauling writes:

Your next KIPPY......can't wait...! :-)

claiborneh writes:

O'Neil coaches a boring brand of basketball like CCM. Martin, likewise coaches a boring, bland, uninspiring brand of basketball, and needs to win big fast or fans are going to turn on him and stop coming to games. Wait, they all ready have.

gobigorange5090 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

Hmmm I wonder if he'd come back.

The man is psycho. Why would we want him??

gobigorange5090 writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I bet you dream about Dooley.

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