Floyd moving on by returning to his roots

Ask around and it’s not hard to see that Tim Floyd doesn’t have the greatest of reputations on the USC campus.

Sure, the former men’s basketball coach — who was hired March 29 to take the helm at the University of Texas at El Paso — compiled a very respectable 85-50 record in his four seasons with the Trojans, led the team to three straight NCAA tournament appearances and a Pac-10 title, managed to vault USC into only its second Sweet 16 birth in school history and constructed what is arguably the best three-year stretch in school basketball history.

Even his sternest critics agree that his on-the-court influence was impressive.

Rather, it was what he did off the court that left a sour taste in the mouths of Trojan basketball fans everywhere and ultimately tarnished his image as a successful coach and a catalyst for growth and progress within the program.

Obviously, the questionable recruiting methods for high school phenom O.J. Mayo — which has since become a large enough issue to warrant an NCAA investigation and self-imposed sanctions against the team — headlines Floyd’s list of slip-ups, but it wasn’t simply rule breaking that garnered ill will toward the coach.

Floyd’s lack of an emotional connection to his players and the school as a whole became evident in the final months he served here as head coach. This was supported by both his words — “Kansas has two players who would have been NBA lottery picks, Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, and they are returning to school. Good for them. Our guys get an offer from Islamabad and they’re gone,” he told boosters, in reference to Marcus Johnson’s consideration to go pro (Johnson ended up staying at USC for the rest of his eligibility) — and his actions.

Floyd, unbeknownst to even his players at the time, bolted for Arizona when the Wildcats offered him a coaching job, then turned it down (despite coming so close to accepting the offer that even ESPN.com reported he had taken the position), only to suddenly resign from the team two months later citing a lack of enthusiasm for the job.

In the course of one summer, USC went from having many of the tools necessary to make a run deep into the NCAA tournament to having no coach, no recruits and little chance to continue its success of the last four years.

While some may call Floyd selfish or a downright cheater, I see the problem not with him but with the environment to which he was thrust in so suddenly in 2005.

For those who don’t remember, Rick Majerus was originally selected to lead the Trojans, but an unexpected resignation just five days after his hiring left Floyd in the driver’s seat with full control. He had the weight of a win-hungry student body, a new arena and a talented young team all resting on his shoulders — a large pressure for any coach, let alone one who had recently struggled in his last couple of head coaching gigs.

Floyd had to win, and he had to win immediately. And he did.

But the intangibles that were lost in the rushed process of building a national contender — team unity, a selfless mentality — prevented the team, despite its successes on the court, from ever really developing a bond with the school they represented; Floyd was good at winning, but that seemed to be the extent of his benefit to the Trojans.

With this in mind, as Floyd takes the head coaching position at UTEP next season, I do not see the same external factors present that caused a whirlwind of rumors and a quick resignation from USC. Actually, I cannot imagine a better place in which the baggage-laden coach could re-energize his career.

Obviously, it’s a plus that he is taking the reins of a team fresh off an NCAA tournament appearance and a top-25 ranking. It also helps that UTEP is far away from the neverending recruiting tug-of-war and temptation that got Floyd in trouble in the first place during his time at USC.

But the main reason that UTEP fits Floyd more than USC is because this is not a first-time trip to El Paso for him by any means; it is almost a homecoming of sorts, as Floyd both lived there as a child and served nine years as an assistant under former UTEP coach Don Haskins from 1978 to 1986.

Haskins took an inexperienced Floyd (who admits himself that he wasn’t qualified for the assistant position) under his wing and gave him the tools necessary to become a successful head coach, which essentially allowed him to navigate the world of collegiate and professional athletics and make a name for himself.

That is why the opportunity to return to the place where he got his first real shot is not something that Floyd will take lightly; his connection with the team, as well as the team’s history, is something special — and something that he never had in any of his previous jobs.

So although Floyd’s coaching career has been filled with rumors, missed opportunities and many job changes, it seems like he is finally on the right track to prove his worth in the basketball world.

All it took was a trip back to where it all began.

“One-Two Punch” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail James at jbianchi@usc.edu.