Now that USC has finally decided to part ways with Kevin O’Neill, the next question is who should the school hire to replace O’Neill, who had an underwhelming four seasons at the helm in Los Angeles.
Even though I called for O’Neill’s job last month, I was surprised that he was sacked despite going 2-2 to start Pac-12 play. I figured USC would wait til the season ended to mercifully send him on his way. Longtime assistant coach Bob Cantu is going to take over and considering how well he knows the program, the Trojans will probably keep hanging around as one of the middle teams in the conference.
Yet the question remains. Who should be the next Trojans head coach? Who should inherit this team and try to restore it back to respectable levels? I’ve spoken to several of my colleagues and peers and they’ve thrown around two names. Reggie Theus and Jamie Dixon.
Dixon, in his 10th season at Pittsburgh, is a popular choice because he’s a Southern California guy and he’s built Pitt into one of the nation’s most consistent programs. He’s been able to recruit solid talent over the years so I believe he’d do even better in the rich talent pool that California has. Also, if he took the job, it’d be a great to see him go head-to-head with his mentor, UCLA‘s Ben Howland.
Theus, currently the head coach of the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the NBA Development League, also has deep connections in Southern California and his son currently attends Fairfax High School here in Los Angeles. A native of Inglewood, Calif., Theus had a brief two-year run at New Mexico State where he was 41-23 and led the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament in 2007.
Some feel that Theus, who also coached the Sacramento Kings from 2007-09, would be a better fit because he’s still in the region and he’s overdue for a chance to be a college head coach. The consensus, however, is that USC will probably reach out to Dixon first because of his success.
My opinion? I’d be happy if USC went after both of them. I’ve seen Theus around high school games the last few years so he knows who to recruit and how to teach the game as one of the most underrated NBA players of the 1980s. Yet Dixon’s homecoming would be a great story and since he’s thrived in the last decade of the Big East as we know it, it’d be fun to see what he’d bring to the Pac-12.
Either way, the Trojans, who have always treated basketball as a secondary sport to football, need to make a splash in their coaching search and it starts by reaching out to those two names.
Evan Barnes is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles who has covered sports for the Los Angeles Sentinel, South Bay Daily Breeze and ESPN, among others. For more thoughts on the Pac-12 or anything else, follow me on Twitter: @Evan_B