In 3+ seasons as the head coach at USC, Kevin O’Neill took the Trojans to the NCAA Tournament only once (2011).
A 45-61 record overall in his tenure, the direction of the Trojans’ program may not have been what they the athletic department was looking for. In fact, following the Monday morning news of the school’s decision to fire their head coach, it became clear that they were undoubtedly not pleased with the program’s current direction.
Overall, I have no problem with the school’s decision, but the timing was simply wrong.
Mid-season firings in professional sports may be one thing, but on the collegiate ranks there are only a few distinct examples of in-season turnarounds. Take Western Kentucky a season ago, who fired Ken McDonald during the early stages of conference play, only to respond and qualify for the NCAA Tournament via the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
However, let’s be serious, USC is a member of the Pac-12 and a turnaround like that is heavily farfetched. Now throw in the fact that USC is a team riddled with transfers and newcomers, the mid-season adjustment to losing their head coach is not one that is easy to cope with.
Now, O’Neill said following Monday morning’s announcement that he will do his best to keep his now-former players intact. “I enjoyed my four years at USC. I would encourage all of our recruits to honor their commitment to USC and help build the Trojan program in the right direction.”
At 7-10 on the season, the disappointments were mounting against O’Neill, especially after a 6-26 season in 2011-12, so the decision to remove his as head coach is understandable. Yet, midway through the season? What’s the point. The Trojans are currently 2-2 within the conference, a record that currently positions them ahead of five fellow league members.
If USC wanted to move forward with a new coach, they should have at least given O’Neill and his team the benefit of playing out this season, especially for seniors like Jio Fontan, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, on the roster.
Sure, USC may look like geniuses if this Trojans’ squad can turn things around down the stretch under interim head coach Bob Cantu, but at this point, a serious run in conference play is their only option.
Paul Seaver is the College Basketball Network Manager at Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter: @PaulSeaverRS