When Kevin O’Neill got the axe on January 14th, who had Andy Enfield as his successor? Didn’t think so. Just over a week ago, America barely knew of Enfield, and Florida Gulf Coast sounded more like a geographical landform than a startup college known for glamous dunks and NCAA Tournament wins.
Now, after a whirlwind tournament run that saw Enfield lead his ‘Dunk City’ Eagles into an improbable Sweet Sixteen, he finds himself at the helm of the USC Trojans, inheriting a program teetering both on the edge of relevance and the cusp of turmoil.
While Enfield’s face is a new one for college basketball, his story is not. Meet Stan Heath.
Heath is the current head coach of the South Florida Bulls, ironically coaching just a two hour drive north Interstate 75 of Enfield’s old roost in Fort Myers. Eleven years ago, Stan Heath was Andy Enfield.
In his first season as a head coach at lowly Kent State of the MAC, Heath led the Golden Flashes to their best season in school history, highlighted by a trip to the Elite Eight. An 81-69 loss to Indiana kept Cinderella from the Final Four, but it paved the way for Heath to greener pastures, as the then 37-year-old found himself in Fayetteville, coaching the Arkansas Razorbacks.
For Heath, it feel-good story of a coach rising up from the pipeline of small college success and finding himself in the SEC. A former Tom Izzo assistant, Heath had great fanfare at Arkansas as the hotshot coach that just led one of the most improbable Elite Eight runs in recent memory.
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the lightning-in-a-bottle approach didn’t exactly parlay into SEC success. Heath coached five years at Arkansas, winning just 82 games while failing to win an NCAA Tournament game. In 2012, Heath finally got off the tournament snide, taking South Florida from the First Four to the Round of 32.
Fast forward to today and it’s hard not to compare Enfield to Heath, given their sudden rises to prominence and immediate promotion to a power conference. However, it wouldn’t be prudent to label Enfield as a Heath-clone or to immediately call the hire a bad one for Pat Haden.
Consider that when Arkansas hired Heath, they were just eight years removed from a National Championship and seven years from Final Four appearance in 1995 that saw them lose the title game to UCLA. Nolan Richardson, whose controversial dismal in 2002 led to the hiring of Heath, built Arkansas into a national power, a level that USC has never come close to sniffing.
While expectations with USC Basketball are fluid, they’re no where near the demands at Arkansas that Stan Heath walked into, and Enfield isn’t replacing a Hall of Fame Coach.
When Tim Floyd was at the helm and taking the Trojans to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, the expectation was for players like O.J. Mayo and DeMar Derozan to lead USC on the brink of the Final Four. Typically, a tournament berth more than whets the appetite of a rather anemic fan base.
With a rather anemic fan base, simply making the NCAA Tournament more often than not and looking competitive while doing so goes a long way at USC. The Tim Floyd years gave fans a reason to fill the Galen Center, but for a school that never made three straight NCAA Tournaments before 2009, along with a 1954 Final Four banner that accumulates more dust by the day, the expectations at USC shouldn’t have changed in a manner to deem Enfield as unqualified.
There’s no reason that USC shouldn’t be a perennial Top 25 program in the country given the resources and facilities that the program has access to. But the reality is that in the 73 years since the Trojans’ first Final Four appearance since 1940, that stature has yet to come to fruition.
With that, comes a need for Pat Haden to cater to his audience: disgruntled boosters that would give anything to just have an exciting and competivie basketball program. Even without a long resume of conquests and trimmed nets, on the surface, Andy Enfield does that. He’s a coach that lets his players have fun and with a supermodel wife on his arm, he fits that the facade of the L.A. mold that Pat Riley chiseled to perfection.
The Trojans will probably win plenty of games in exciting fashion, while dropping others in disappointing ways, just as they always have. But for Haden, the hope is that those exciting moments outweigh the low points, at least in perception and memory. For it is that notion that sells tickets.
So in the end, Enfield’s hire is so…’USC Basketball’. It’s a move that Joey Kaufman classified so well over the weekend as a conundrum between lazy and brilliant.
The Trojans must sell tickets, and as the Clippers have quickly shown, Los Angeles is a city that has such a lust for sexy basketball that fans are willing to rally behind a team without a lucrative history if it means there will be plenty of dunks.
On the court, that style could recruit itself. In the stands, it’ll need YouTube videos, something that USC has a knack for making.