Kevin O'Neill Introductory Press Conference Quotes
June 22, 2009
New USC Men's Basketball Head Coach Introduction Press Conference -- 6-22-09
USC Athletic Director
Welcome. This is an exciting time for our basketball program. We've been through a lot and we have been looking at different potential candidates all over the country. After going through and looking around, I came to the conclusion, particularly after meeting with Kevin and after talking to him, that he was someone who was available.
He teaches defense, fast break offense, is disciplined and kind of talks about basketball like I would talk about football, which really turned me on. He is a no nonsense person. He works very hard. I was just elated when I sat down and start talking with him.
I think he will be a great coach for us, and he will be a great coach for any season, let alone what we are going through now. I'm just very, very excited that this weekend had been a very pleasurable weekend. I didn't have to worry about basketball because Kevin O'Neill would take the job and I know he will guide us the way we should be guided.
Without further ado, Kevin, the floor is yours. This is our new basketball coach.
New USC Men's Basketball Head Coach
Thank you Mike. Before I go any further, I will make an opening statement.
I want to introduce my wife, Roberta. There will be questions about recruiting, I'm sure, and as you can see, I can recruit, obviously.
I want to thank Mike and Dr. Sample for entrusting me with the USC program. It's an exciting time for my family and me. We are really looking forward to it.
The process with Mike was a very easy one. Straight forward, which I'm sure you are accustomed to with Mike. It was easy, it was like I said, straight forward, to the point and I'm really proud to be the coach at USC and looking forward to it.
I want to talk for a second about Tim Floyd, whom I am replacing. Tim is one heck of a basketball coach, a friend for a long time and I admire everything he has done. Tim is a guy who represents coaches, he is a coach's coach, he has worked extremely hard his whole career and I wish him nothing but the very best. I want to continue the things that he has done here. He's really done a nice job with the program.
There are some other guys that I need to talk about here, the guys I worked for. I worked for Lute Olson twice. It's rare that someone will hire you two times. Lute is a guy I have known a long time, been loyal to for 20 years and still loyal to and feel good about and it was a shame to see him retire. He had a great career as a Hall of Famer and I think that if I could attain any of the numbers that Lute Olson attained over his time, it would be nothing but a pleasure. I worked for three great guys in the pros, Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Carlisle and Marc Iavaroni. All three were different in their approach, all three were very attuned to winning and had been winners for a long time and guys that I admire an awful lot and appreciate my time with them in a lot of ways. I also want to mention Chris Wallace, the GM of the Memphis Grizzlies, who I most recently worked for. He is a guy that I really enjoyed working with and thought a lot of.
Obviously, USC has great tradition. You know if you look at the coaches, you have Bob Boyd, Forest Twogood, Hall of Famer Sam Barry. They've had great players over the years, including Paul Westphal, Bill Sharman, Harold Miner, Nick Young. There has been a lot of great basketball played here. The guy in the back, who I know well, Mack Calvin, I appreciate you coming out today. He was a great player here and a great representative of USC.
My attraction to the job was simple. It's USC. I mean, let's face it. It is a tremendous, world-class institution of learning. They major in graduation and championships here, two pretty good things. It's obvious that this is a great basketball job, it's a great athletic job, and it's also a great place to go to school and a great place to live.
The investigation that's going, I'll say this right now. I was totally informed of everything I needed to know by Mike Garrett. I have no questions going into this about what was going on in the past. My main concern and my main focus is going to be what we do from here on out. To me, it is really important that we move forward academically and athletically and try to win and try to graduate guys and do the best job we can moving forward. And that's what we are going to do. We are going to move forward as a group no matter what happens, no matter what the consequences. We are going to attack it with pride and enthusiasm and move forward.
We are obviously going to recruit high-quality student-athletes. I think that is really important. We want to recruit the best of the best, guys who achieve in the classroom and on the court, guys who can play professional basketball, guys who do things academically. That's going to be important as we move ahead in the program.
For style of play, I take a lot of criticism about being a guy who has walked the ball up the floor and all that. I was in three major rebuilds before. We didn't have any talent when I started, so yeah, we did walk it up. And I think the better your players are, the faster you should play. I like to play up-tempo basketball on offense, I want us to be able to run sets in the half court when we can't score because that's how you play in the NCAA tournament and Pac-10 championship tournaments. We are going to be a man-to-man team basically. We will play a few change-up things but for the most part we want to play a pro-style kind of game.
I'm also, contrary to popular belief, I'm not Darth Vader. People think I was slaying people every time you turn around. To me, if you're expecting guys to go to class, be on time, and work hard, and treat their teammates with respect and be responsible, if that's too hard, then I would be too hard. But over the years, I've been in situations where, you know it's interesting, not all the players always like the coach. But guess what? The coaches don't like all the players sometimes, either. It's kind of the way it goes, especially when you are in rebuilding situations. I think our players will enjoy playing for me and I'm going to enjoy coaching them. And I'm not taking over a rebuilding situation here. We have good players, many of them who are in the room right now and guys that I'm looking forward to teaching and coaching as we move forward. It is all about the players. I have high expectations for all our guys, the people who work in the office, for me more than anybody else, but it really is about the players. It's about the student-athletes, and what's best for them in every way. Without question we want our guys to graduate, without question we want them to achieve at a high level on and off the court. We want them to be responsible and that's what's been going on here and that's what's going to continue to go on here because we have guys who are capable of that right now. And those are the kinds of guys that we are going to recruit. I want it to be a blue collar team. I don't want us to give up easy baskets. I don't want us to not foul hard when we should. I want us to be on the floor. I want us to be a team that competes very very hard. I think that's going to be a hallmark of our team, and it has been the last four years.
I've talked to members of the staff and I feel really good about the guys who are here right now. I haven't come to any decisions but I had a chance to meet with Phil (Johnson) and the rest of the guys last night. These guys have done a very good job and I appreciate what they have done so far. And I want to get to know them better going forward here. But I really like what those guys have done and hopefully can continue to do for us.
I'm going to open up all the practices to the media, anybody who wants to come, you can come anytime. I'll be happy to give you my cell phone after I'm done here. If you want to call me, you can call me anytime. The only thing that I ask is that when you cover the players, cover them fairly, which has always been a custom of the media people. And I'm going to be more than fair with you. There won't be any secrets, come to the practice and watch how we coach the guys. See if you are comfortable with it. But I invite all you guys to do that and call me anytime.
Anything you have for questions? Feel free to ask,
Q-Did you talk to Tim Floyd about the job before taking it?
I spoke to Tim after I took the job. Tim called me actually and we talked for quite some time. I'll say it again. I really admire what Tim has done here and I hope that I can continue to do as well and build it more as we move forward. But I have spoken to Tim already.
Q-What were you told that alleviated your concerns about taking the job?
I really didn't care and don't take this wrong. I didn't care what had happened and we didn't get into detail because that's not my place. I was taking the job no matter what. I wanted the job from the beginning because it is USC. It's a prime opportunity academically and athletically. So the fact that there is an investigation going on never changed my view of the university at all. And we are going to deal with whatever comes out of this and be positive and move forward. That's not going to be a concern of ours. Obviously, it's a concern of the university but for me my main concern is these guys sitting back here, the guys I'm going to coach with, our fans, and the people who come out to the games. Those are things that I am concerned about.
Q-How are you going to attack the recruiting process in late June when so many guys have gone to the NBA and current commitments de-committed? How do you deal with that stuff?
Obviously, I can't talk about prospective student-athletes. I think it's our job to put together the best team we can for 2009 and then focus on our 2010-2011 recruiting once we've locked that up. Once we figure out what are team is going to be moving forward in 2009, then what we have to do is get out on the road and recruit hard for 2010 and 2011.
Q-What benchmark are you setting for the season?
To me, looking at the roster, we have good players here. I think we have a core group of guys. It would be my expectation that when we hit the practice court that we are thinking nothing short of trying to be in the NCAA Tournament. That's the way I'm going to approach the season, that's the way the players are going to approach the season. These guys are used to it. They have been to tournaments three years in a row here, the NCAA Tournament three years in a row. I guarantee all of them are thinking we are going to get back into the tournament. And that's the way we are going to approach it. And I think the important thing for us is to not worry about who is not here, or who left, or who didn't make it here, or whatever happened. I'm going to worry about the guys who are here, and do the best job we can to help them compete in any way they can. This is a competitive group and I think these guys will play basketball every single day, I think they'll work hard, and I think they will surprise some people. I mean, I've coached against these guys two years ago. I didn't enjoy coaching against them, I can tell you that right now. I know they compete hard and really give us a chance to win and that's all you need.
Q-What impressions did you get coaching against them?
The facilities are second to none. Like the rest of the university, this is a world class facility. The arena is beautiful, the offices, the practice courts. I don't think you can really ask for much more. There's everything here in place to help you win, and help you win big. And that's what our goal is. The good thing that is in place is that we have some returning players who are veterans who have been through the wars. My impression of them as players is that they were darn hard to play against. They always were and they always competed. I have no reason to believe that they won't continue to keep competing at a high level and have us play down to the wire every time.
Q-Some high profile coaches have shied away from this job. What made you take it?
Are you asking if I was the first choice for the job? I wasn't her first choice either (points to wife), I know that. You know what it is for me: the old saying that someone else's loss is someone else's gain. If people did shy away from this job for some reason, I'm glad they did because I wasn't shying away from this job at all, especially spending some time with Mike. I felt better about it by the hour when I spent time with him. To me, there are challenges in every job and we are going to meet the challenges. The good thing we have behind us is a world class university with great facilities and a great tradition academically and athletically, so I'm glad some of these guys didn't want the job or didn't think that it was the time.
Q-How long is your contract?
I don't comment on my contract.
Q-You spent a lot of time in the NBA. What brought you back, and what is your experience?
I've done both. I've gone back and forth. Nine of the last 10 years I was in the NBA, but I coached for 11 years before as a head BCS coach before that. For me, number one, if you're in the NBA--unless you are bound like Phil Jackson or Pat Riley or some of these guys--your ticket is getting punched every two or three years and sometimes after one year. So now it's a chance to be in a place for quite some period of time. I wasn't interested in any college job. This is a great college job, for the fact it's a great college and I was able to be in a position to get it. That meant something. I wouldn't have gone to any college, I like the NBA, but I'm really looking forward to coach these guys at USC.
I was a head coach when I was 31 years old and I'm Irish Catholic, so I was prone to being wild on occasions. I'm a different coach from the first time I was in college. I really don't apologize for how I coach at all. I coach hard, I'm aggressive and I want guys to be the same. But as with anything else, after 20 years you do change a little. I think coaching in the NBA for a decade has truly helped me. You can't coach in the NBA that long if you don't get along with the players. You understand players better. There is a different generation of players now then there was 15 years ago, so you would be a fool of a coach to not adjust to what players are like and what their needs are on and off the court. So to me, I'm going to be just as aggressive as a coach and expect a lot out of our guys but I'm a different guy than I was, like everybody in the room 15 years ago.
Q-Given the location, are you surprised that there hasn't been success and what does it take to make this a successful program again?
Speaking of the past, I can't relate to it because I wasn't around then. The last four years have been played at a very high level of basketball and it would be my hope that we can play at that level and even improve over the next four, five, six years. Everything is in place. You have location, you have players, you have a great conference, you have a great university, you have great support, great facilities. There's nothing here that says you can't win. And that's why I like this job and I think it's a great job, and that's what we intend to do here is win.
Q-What did you take from your year at Arizona?
That whole year in Arizona was difficult for everyone. I went there as an assistant coach, and the next thing I knew I was the interim head coach, and then I was the successor coach, and then I was gone. Four things in one year, four positions in one year? That in itself is interesting. It is in unfortunate that players and coaches had to go through the situation they did. In fairness, every player that was there came in there to play one style of basketball and once I took over the job I brought a different style of basketball. No knock on Lute, but that's just the way it is. I learned a lot during that year. I think that experiences like that really toughen you up as a coach and make you appreciate good experiences. I liked a lot of those experiences but there were some trying times there and that was a challenging thing. It was what it was. I enjoyed my time there, and Tucson is a great place, and I have great respect for the University of Arizona.
Q-What will you tell recruits to make them interested in the program regardless of the ongoing investigation and allegations against the program?
I think what we have is a big-time campus experience, and a big-time university. It's pretty hard to ignore those things. Will there be questions? I'm certain there will be questions. Probably a lot of their questions I won't have answers to but the bottom line is that this place hasn't changed one bit. The campus is the same, the facilities are the same, the academic integrity is the same, the people that work here and the world class faculty that work here are all the same. Sure, there are questions about every school. There are questions about every situation. I think we have a lot fewer questions to answer than a lot people do. To me, I am just selling the University of Southern California and their tradition.
Q-Do you have any bad will about how the things ended in Arizona?
I have no ill will whatsoever.
Q-Were you treated unfairly?
No, I don't I think I was. I think Lute deserved the opportunity to come back and be the coach. He earned that over 24 years there and he earned that with a Hall of Fame career. If you notice, a lot of people said things after I left. I didn't say anything. To me, that was a great experience to coach at Arizona and to coach on Lute and Bobbi's court. To coach those players was a good experience to me. So I don't have any ill will or bad feelings. Plus, I ended up at a better job.
Q-With that said, is this a second chance for you?
I didn't go there to be the head coach, you have to remember that. I went there to be the assistant for Lute and help Lute. So I don't look at this as a second chance. I look at it as a great opportunity. I loved coaching at Arizona but I'm going to love coaching here. I'm happy to be here. I don't have any regrets the way the last 2-3 years has turned out in any way.
Q-What's the initial thing you need to do to rebuild for this year?
I don't think this is a rebuilding job. What you end up doing in a rebuilding job is working in chaos. When you've won four games coming in, it ends up being a slow process when you start from the ground floor up. And you endure a lot of losses. You have to upgrade your recruiting, you have to evaluate the people that are there, you have to bring in your own staff, and you have to start from scratch. Those situations prepare you for opportunities when you don't have to do those things, like this one. I wouldn't trade those. There are a lot of long days but for the most part I wouldn't trade those days because it teaches you a lot about coaching and about what to do in tough situations.
Q-How long does your plan stretch out?
My plan is to be competitive this year. My plan is it to be competitive every year. My plan is to recruit high-quality student-athletes. Like I said, we should be recruiting great players, great students, have an opportunity to compete for the Pac-10 championship and have the opportunity to compete for national championships. This place has won more national championships than anyone. And I don't look at this as laying down a plan. We should be coaching and managing and doing those things in the here-and-now and that's what we plan on doing. Our plan is to try to win now.