Kevin O’Neill has been relieved of his duties in his fourth season as the head coach of the USC Men’s Basketball Team. Filling his shoes will be Bob Cantu, who is currently serving his 12th year as the assistant coach for the Trojans.
Let’s take a moment to replay the USC coaching career of Kevin O’Neill, as we attempt to highlight the highs-and-lows from a tumultuous journey.
The last memory we have of Kevin O’Neill was quite recently, when the Trojans defeated the Utah Utes 76-59 on Saturday. This was arguably the Trojans most complete game of the season, breaking a 14-game road losing streak.
A four-year tenure under Kevin O’Neill full of turmoil and disappointment, masked by the negative circumstances that surrounded the program. When Kevin O’Neill took over in 2009 USC was slapped with self-imposed sanctions, leaving the program decimated in terms of recruiting.
In his second season, O’Neill was voted Pac-12 Coach of the Year after posting a surprising record of 19-15. The under-manned Trojan squad led by Nikola Vucevic, lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to the cinderella-story VCU Rams.
Despite his impressive second season at USC, the stat sheet as a head coach was far from impressive. O’Neill finished with an overall record of 45-61, including a horrendous 3-19 record in Pac-12 play over the last two seasons.
Last season, USC finished 6-26 but suffered major losses with Jio Fontan out for the seaon, and Dewayne Dedmon injured for most of the season leaving the offense largely in the hands of Maurice Jones.
The Trojans were extremely outmatched in Pac-12 play and it showed on the court, with consistent performances that could be deemed Bad News Bears like.
Throughout his 30-plus year coaching career, Kevin O’Neill’s dedication to defense resonated with the Trojans. O’Neill produced a very competitive team on the defensive end of the floor, making for low scoring affairs.
The Trojans were the top scoring defense and shooting percentage defense in the Pac-12 last defense. This season remains the same, only allowing 64-points per game, in large part thanks to two active seven-footers in Omar Oraby and Dewayne Dedmon.
When USC posted plus-.500 record seasons, they were known as a Big East-style team that played a grind-it-out style in which first team to score 60 points was in prime position to win the game. With strong interior defenders like Dewayne Dedmon, Alex Stephenson, Omar Oraby and Nikola Vucevic at his disposal, Kevin O’Neill teams always brought their best on defense.
It was the other side of the court that doomed this basketball program.In all four seasons under O’Neill, the Trojans never ranked higher than eighth in Pac-12 scoring offense, averaging under 60-points per game in two of those seasons.
This year however, USCs offense has actually improved from last season by over 10 points per game, which is sadly still not enough to consistently compete in the high-paced Pac-12. The fact remains that with O’Neill under center, USC never could run even a semblance of a strong offense.
Pat Haden’s change in direction had writing on the wall, with the biggest concern being the lack of responsibility the players showed O’Neill. Players were intimidated by O’Neill’s stern approach, tough demeanor and passionate coaching style.
No one can ever question KO’s passion for basketball or his astute understanding of defensive principles. Never looking for the attention, O’Neill unfortunately received a bulk of the glamour from the teams success and overwhelming failure.
Best known for his fierery outbursts and intense staredowns with players, O’Neill demanded effort and toughness. As a coach who stuck with his guns, O’Neil played a seven-man rotation in 2010, trusting his teams heart to stay out of foul trouble yet compete for 40 minutes.
This season for example, Aaron Fuller received three starts because of his tenacity in practice while JT Terrell was benched for not playing with enough effort.This constant desire for effort made O’Neill an intense individual on and off the court.
In one of the most infamous moment in his USC career, O’Neill got in a yelling match with an Arizona fan after a Pac-12 Tournament victory. After serving as the interim head coach for Lute Olsen in 2007-2008 at Arizona, O’Neill was not well respected in the desert.
For our closing, let’s paint the picture that best describes Kevin O’Neill’s career at USC. A player standing the on the court taking a wordy beating from a passionate coach that demanded the most out of his players, beginning on defense.
All coaches have this mentality, but what made O’Neill famous at USC was the mannor in which he expressed his passion on the court.
That being said the Kevin O’Neill tenure as Men’s Basketball Coach has ended as times are changing at USC. With a roster in flux, and a fan base tired of losing, the time is now for change and a new direction to head the program.
Now we focus our efforts on long-time assistant coach, Bob Cantu. The 12-year substitute teacher at USC his first crack with a team desperate for a shot in the arm. This time approaching the players with a patient and more laid-back approach from beginning to end.