In the wake of Tim Floyd's resignation at USC under scrutiny from the OJ Mayo situation, our old friend Kevin O'Neill has been named the new head coach of the Trojans' basketball program. The fun part for Vol fans: Tennessee has a home-and-home series on the books with the Trojans, which will send the Vols out to Southern California at some point this season, and USC to Knoxville in the future.
If Wade Houston was the low point in Tennessee Basketball history, O'Neill was the man who sowed the seeds of turnaround. His stint in Knoxville, coming from Marquette, lasted from 1994-1997. He inherited a program that had gone 5-22 in Houston's final season, and introduced discipline and defense - two concepts Houston never understood - to the Vol program.
Though some games finished with scores in the 40s, O'Neill started building a winner. His colorful vocabulary and penchant for kicking the Revco sign next to the bench notwithstanding - both of which could be heard from the upper deck in the then-cavernous Thompson-Boling Arena - O'Neill put the Vols in the NIT in two seasons, a major accomplishment at the time.
His biggest contribution to the program came in recruiting, as O'Neill brought the talent to Knoxville - Tony Harris, Isaiah Victor, CJ Black and others - that would ultimately lead the Vols to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. But a growing tension between O'Neill and then-AD Doug Dickey, along with other factors, led to O'Neill leaving Knoxville for Northwestern following the 1997 season, and Jerry Green would reap the benefit with O'Neill's recruits. O'Neill never liked the fact that men's basketball was clearly second (or third) fiddle in Knoxville, a situation he'll be reintroduced to at Southern Cal.
His career may not have seen a ton of success in the dozen years since leaving Knoxville, but it has been eventful. He's one of the few people crazy enough to try and fight Bob Knight, with an altercation between the two while O'Neill was at Northwestern. After leaving Northwestern O'Neill spent three seasons as an NBA assistant before becoming the head coach of the Toronto Raptors in 2003, where he spent two years but was unable to get the Raptors in the playoffs.
Most recently, O'Neill was involved in the difficult situation at Arizona regarding Lute Olson, with O'Neill serving as interim (and at one time future) head coach. With Olson wavering on his decision to return, O'Neill was in a difficult situation and ultimately left the Arizona staff. He's spent last season as an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies, but has retained his Pac-10 ties in now being named USC's head man.
I like O'Neill. His style won't be for everyone, but his emphasis on defense can produce a winner, especially at the college level, and despite the cloud surrounding the USC program, O'Neill can recruit and it's easy to get kids to come to Southern Cal, even when you do it legally.
It'll be fun to see him in Knoxville, presumably next year. He moved the Tennessee program forward and has a share of responsibility in the tournament appearances and the conference/division championships won by Jerry Green. Hopefully, this move works out well for USC and O'Neill.