While pondering the fundamental differences between coaching college and pro basketball, Tim Floyd harvests an anecdote from America's Heartland.
"I can remember being back at Iowa State," Floyd says. "Having a player come by my house and asking me if I thought it was OK if he got married during his senior year -- something an NBA guy would never do."
And thus, after a seven-year hiatus from college coaching, the itinerant instructor finds himself back on campus, having twice enrolled in the school of hardwood hard knocks known as the National Basketball Association.
"I think the thing that I've enjoyed more than anything is the fact the relationships are deeper with the [college] players, because you're involved with the first major decision of their life -- where they're going to school -- and the relationships are lasting."
Floyd is in his second season as the head coach at the University of Southern California, a football powerhouse that some regard as a somnambulant basketball behemoth that needs only to be awakened.
It's Floyd's fourth job as a college head coach and, he says, his last. Though he took a shot with both the NBA's Chicago Bulls and most recently, the New Orleans Hornets, the 52-year-old says he's staying in school.
"I'm very happy in college and really have no interest in returning to the NBA."
It's taken Floyd nearly three decades to determine unequivocally that his comfort zone is on the collegiate level, where the most successful coaches are equal parts teacher, strategist, guardian and salesman.
"I never disliked the college game," Floyd says. "That was never my reason for going to the NBA -- just the curiosity and the desire to try to coach the best talent in the world."
The son of a former University of Southern Mississippi basketball coach, Floyd built a reputation as something of an alchemist, able to transform common college programs into winning commodities.
Floyd took his first head coaching job at the University of Idaho, where he spent two years before assuming control of the University of New Orleans's nascent program in 1988. At UNO, he delivered remarkable results. In six seasons on the lakefront, he compiled a record of 127-58 and became one of only four Division I coaches to win four conference championships in the first five years at a school.
Then it was on to Iowa State where, after four seasons, Floyd assembled a resume so dazzling he was hand-picked to take over an NBA dynasty.
Or what was a dynasty -- before he arrived in Chicago post-Michael Jordan.
By the time he was appointed head coach, the once mighty Bulls -- a team that had won six NBA championships in eight seasons -- had been eviscerated.
Jordan retired, and with the foundation gone, the entire franchise crumbled.
Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr and Dennis Rodman departed. Head coach Phil Jackson decided to take a year off, which opened the door for Floyd's NBA debut.
It was maybe the most challenging reclamation project in NBA history, and the results were predictably disastrous. In four seasons with the Bulls, Floyd's record was 49-190.
In December 2001, Floyd resigned.
"It might have been the most difficult job that anybody's ever walked into in pro sports," Floyd would say years later.
The Hornets, no doubt, took that extreme set of circumstances into consideration when the team hired Floyd to succeed head coach Paul Silas in 2003. With the Hornets, Floyd inherited a veteran team stocked with stars like Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn as well as a seasoned supporting cast that included P.J. Brown, David Wesley and Jamaal Magloire. Team executives hoped Floyd could coax maximum effort from the roster while managing a collection of fragile egos.
As it turned out, the players' egos weren't the only things that were on the brink.
Top reserve Courtney Alexander missed the entire season with a torn Achilles tendon and Mashburn was sidelined for all but 19 games with a bruised knee.
Baron Davis sprained his ankle late in the season, hindering his play, and David Wesley missed a stretch of the season with a toe injury.
The Hornets finished the regular season with a record of 41-41. The team lost in a first round playoff series to the Miami Heat.
In May 2004, the Hornets fired Floyd after one season, which came as a surprise to many, including Floyd. He had two years remaining on his contract.
Power forward David West is the only current Hornet who played under Floyd. West says Floyd's collegiate pedigree prejudiced the veterans' opinions of the head coach.
"I think a lot of guys on that team, a lot of older guys didn't give him the respect he deserved in terms of being just a basketball coach." West says. "And I think it made him self-conscious, where he was second-guessing himself. But in that situation it would have been tough for anybody, especially when you got guys that don't necessarily want to be on the team and aren't buying in to what you're trying to do. That's the No. 1 key for any team to be successful. You have to buy into what the coach is trying to do."
"I felt good about what we were able to accomplish with an older team, a team that was ready to be broken up, which they did do later on," Floyd says. "I have no regrets."
Despite his unenviable record with the Bulls and his early exit from the Hornets, Floyd says he doesn't consider himself to be a failure as an NBA coach. "I know that to fail you have to have the tools to be successful, and I don't know that we had that in Chicago," Floyd says. "I'm not ashamed about what happened in New Orleans. I'm comfortable with what we accomplished in what I thought were difficult circumstances."
While the pressure facing Floyd at USC is considerably less than what he experienced in the NBA, his new job is hardly a turnkey operation.
The Trojans basketball team has never won consistently. And Floyd inherited a group with just four scholarship players left over from a team that finished last in the Pac-10 Conference.
During Floyd's first season in charge, the Trojans finished with a record of 17-13, -- their most victories since the 2002 season.
In one respect, Floyd's timing was impeccable. This season the program is getting a $147 million booster shot that will inoculate it against a recruiting ailment that has plagued it for decades. The Trojans will play their home games at the newly completed on-campus arena, the Galen Center -- a premier athletic edifice that gives USC a marketing tool it lacked when it played home games at the Los Angeles Municipal Sports Arena, which first opened in 1959.
"Although the program is down, we feel reassured that, after being here for 18 months, we can make it a national-level program at some point just because of the resources, the location and now facilities," Floyd says.
Despite his strong start at USC, Floyd has already dealt with the kind of tragedy that college coaches rarely encounter.
In May, 19-year-old USC point guard Ryan Francis was shot to death in Baton Rouge while he was home visiting his mother for Mother's Day. According to police, the former Glen Oaks High School star was riding in the backseat of a car with friends at 3 a.m. when a gunman got out of an SUV and started shooting. Francis was five blocks from his house. He was supposed to return to USC the next day to enroll in summer school classes.
"It's been the most difficult thing that I've experienced as a coach," Floyd says. "Just because he was our first signee here. He was a young guy that everybody pulled for. He represented, what I think, our school expects from a student athlete -- a 3.0 (grade point average) student who was undersized, under-recruited and started every game and really had a tremendous impact on our first year."
Floyd says he and the entire USC program will miss Francis' spirit.
"[Francis] was so anxious and excited to have an opportunity to play in our new facility. He used to always kid that he was going to get the first assist in the building. He said he might even get the first basket as well and he never explained to me how he was going to do both. He was just a winner."
No stranger to aggressive and innovative recruiting tactics, Floyd caused a national stir this fall when a 14-year-old announced that he had committed to USC, even though he had yet to play in a high school basketball game.
Six-foot-6-freshman guard Dwayne Polee Jr., of Los Angeles, says Floyd offered him a scholarship and he accepted. Polee's decision is non-binding and he could end up changing his mind. But, for now, the prodigy says his commitment is firm.
The chatter on sports talk radio shows reverberated across the country.
Floyd calls the move proactive.
"We knew that it would create a buzz, but we felt [Polee] was worthy of the buzz," Floyd says. "We made a judgment in talent that warranted the early decision. My question has been what's the magic date? When do you do this? There are probably 30 sophomores in our country committing right now. So I'm just wondering if I'm supposed to wait around here until Duke comes in to offer or Carolina comes in to offer before we say, okay we'll take you."
Though Floyd has a long-term vision for the USC basketball program, he has no plans to permanently relocate to southern California.
The Hattiesburg, Miss., native says he already knows where his professional odyssey will conclude.
"New Orleans will always be home to us," Floyd says. "Beverly and I, I'm sure, will retire there when our career's over and this will be my last job. We'll end up back in New Orleans."
Adam Norris is a sports anchor for WGNO-TV, ABC26 in New Orleans.
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- USC Sports Information
- Floyd talks to guard Gabe Pruitt during a season in which USC ended with a record of 17-13, the Trojans most victories since the 2002 season.