The USC Trojans have a long, storied, and incredibly proud tradition — in football.
On the hardcourt, all the tradition, national championships, and publicity reside across town with the UCLA Bruins. When Kevin O’Neill was hired on as USC’s new head coach four seasons ago, the goal was to shift the hardcourt hardware into the Trojans’ trophy case.
However, given extensive leeway following a 6-26 injury-plagued 2012 campaign, O’Neill’s 2013 team has been better, but only against lower-tiered competition. The Trojans record is 7-10, but its biggest win has come against a disappointing Texas team in overtime while the program has been blown away by the likes of Minnesota, Illinois, Georgia, Marquette, and several others.
For that reason, athletic director Pat Haden announced on Monday that the program would be releasing O’Neill immediately and opening up the search for a new head coach and leader, according to USCTrojans.com. In the interim, longtime USC assistant Bob Cantu will lead the team as it gears up for the meat of its Pac-12 schedule.
“I would like to thank Kevin O’Neill for his four years of service to USC,” said Haden. “He took over a program under difficult circumstances because of our NCAA issues and, despite that, he was able to do some good things.
“It was hard for me to evaluate him as a head coach until this year when he had enough players and veterans to compete. As the season progressed, it became evident to me that we needed new leadership in our men’s basketball program. Despite a nice road win in our last game, I felt it was best to make a change now, with most of the Pac-12 season still ahead of us, in order to re-energize our team.
“I feel confident that Bob Cantu will capably guide our team on an interim basis while we search for a new coach.”
O’Neill went out with class, encouraging a building program to continue to do so, especially on the recruiting front.
“I enjoyed my four years at USC. It is a special place. I enjoyed the people I worked with, the players I coached and our fans. I thank USC for allowing me to guide their program. I couldn’t be more proud to work anywhere.
“I would encourage all of our recruits to honor their commitment to USC and help build the Trojan program in the right direction.”
The team finishes with a 48-65 record in O’Neill’s four seasons. The team ranked near the bottom in several major statistical categories, unfortunately. Its average of 63.8 points per game is currently good for 257th in the nation, while its 34.9 rebounds per game and 12.6 assists per game rank 187th and 199th, respectively.
Cantu is in his 12th season with the Trojans, and 17th-overall at the collegiate level. He has taken over on an interim basis once before, when in 2011 he took over for USC’s Pac-12 Tournament game against top-ranked Arizona. The team took the Wildcats down to the wire in a 67-62 loss.
Cantu’s first game this season comes against Oregon on January 17. The Ducks recently upended those same Wildcats, dashing Arizona’s perfect record to that point.