A week ago, I hinted at the possibility that the recent hiring of Pat Haden as athletic director places current head basketball coach Kevin O'Neill on the hot seat simply because new ADs eventually bring in their own coaches at some point during their tenures. Whether you agree with the premise or not, it appears as if Haden, at the moment, is in full support of O'Neill as the head of the Trojan hoops program - which shouldn't come as a big surprise. Per Eamonn Brennan of ESPN's College Basketball blog:
Pat Haden officially replaced Garrett on Tuesday as athletic director, and he wrote a letter to the Trojan family on Day 1 of the new era that mentioned the "continued improvement of our basketball program."
Continued improvement means that there currently is improvement, right? The Trojans in O'Neill's first season went 16-14, and anyone who watched them saw a good amount of spirited play from the team despite it getting word midseason that self-imposed sanctions would cost them any dreams of postseason play.
That spoke volumes about O'Neill's ability to weather the storm and will serve him well going forward as the program faces NCAA probation and recruiting restrictions.
And getting off on the right foot with Haden sure doesn't hurt.
Granted, I wasn't too optimistic about O'Neill's future with USC last week, but that doesn't mean the administration over at Heritage Hall shouldn't be.
O'Neill worked wonders during his first year on the Galen Center sidelines, and that shouldn't be lost on anyone. In a season, in which the team was picked to finish 9th in an awful Pac-10 during the preseason, O'Neill guided the Trojans to a record above .500 despite innumerable handicaps. For that, he deserves tons of praise.
As a result of the team's success in 2010 while being placed on probation, it would be comforting in a sense to see strong support from Haden and the rest of the athletic department. After all, the team deserves it. Attendance last season, unsurprisingly, was abysmal. T.V. ratings were equally as poor. Yet, it seemed as if the marketing people over at Heritage Hall were content with doing nothing to promote O'Neill for one of the best coaching jobs in the country. In many ways, it was a pathetic sight.
Moving forward, it's time for the athletic department to start viewing the basketball program as a legitimate entity and not some sides-show gig that goes on for a month or two during the winter. Granted, past history has done little to disprove this notion. Football has been the money maker, while basketball hasn't brought a whole lot of positive publicity to the school. But that doesn't mean 'SC hoops should be relegated as some non-revenue sport.
Haden's support is telling. The program appears to be headed in the right direction in the wake of the O.J. Mayo fiasco. At the very least, all the shady characters have now left town. In turn, it's time for the rest of the Trojan fanbase to follow Haden's lead, and at the very least, give O'Neill a chance, whether you're optimistic or not.