I suppose I should not be blogging about something that Southern Cal obviously doesn’t really want anyone to know about, but …
The Los Angeles Sparks’ Michael Cooper is taking over the women’s hoops program at USC as soon as the WNBA season is over. OK, yeah, I know. I just proved I can’t keep my big mouth shut. I can’t be trusted with a secret.
Oh, wait … you mean it wasn’t a secret? It’s supposed to be public information? Really? See, you wouldn’t know that by the way USC has handled it.
The school sent out the announcement late Friday afternoon Pacific time, which is actually Friday evening in most of the rest of the country. Ramona Shelburne of the Daily Breeze in greater LA wrote an excellent column about this, saying, “Everything about the exit of the previous coaching staff and hiring of this new one was handled poorly.”
I couldn’t agree more. I saw this announcement late Friday evening and thought, “You’ve got to be freaking kidding me.”
Shelburne also wrote that USC athletic director Mike Garrett has complained privately that the Trojans should be on an elite level with the likes of Tennessee and UConn. If he really thinks that, he might want to consider that Tennessee and UConn don’t conduct women’s basketball business as if they are fly-by-night companies selling crap products over the Internet. Which is basically how USC just acted.
Are you ashamed of this hire, Mr. Garrett? If not, then why was it announced at the time of day and in the way that NCAA violations or players being suspended are usually announced?
While I realize journalists are being laid off or are taking buyouts on almost a daily basis, there are still some of us out here. And we’re not exactly hard to find or contact … that is, if USC’s brass cared in the slightest about getting some publicity for the program. Please don’t even think about the likes of Tennessee or UConn when you can’t even put together a press conference or a conference call for your new coach.
Supposedly, they “couldn’t” do this because Cooper is still with the Sparks and he wants to concentrate on his WNBA duties for the rest of this season. Terrific, USC. Your new head coach really isn’t going to be paying much attention for a few months.
I know coaches never, never, never “negative” recruit (cough). But if you were with another program going for a player who was interested in the Trojans, you might somehow make sure that player saw this Cooper quote from Shelburne’s column: “All my focus is going to be on the Sparks’ season.”
Beyond the complete botch job of announcing the new coach, there are questions about whether this was the right thing for USC. Was Mark Trakh given enough time to cultivate success at the school? He went 17-15 overall and 9-9 in the Pac-10 this season, his fifth at USC. His career record at the school was 90-64 overall and 52-38 in the league, and he took the team to the NCAA tournament twice (2005 and 2006). This despite the fact that major injuries – especially to star-crossed Jacki Gemelos – definitely had an impact.
Compared to some other coaches who are still in their jobs but have not had as much success, Trakh may have been pushed out prematurely. Oh, I mean he “resigned.” Sure, whatever.
How much time is enough time in today’s women’s hoops world for teams in the big conferences? It comes down to what the real expectations of a program are – not just what an athletic director publicly says they are. Behind the scenes, what is the true commitment of the athletic department to its women’s basketball program? To assume it is just about money – specifically the head coach’s salary – is a myopic view. Coaching salaries have gone through the roof in the past decade, but salary alone does not constitute commitment.
USC committed to alum Chris Gobrecht for seven years and did not get an NCAA Tournament appearance out of it. Next came Trakh. But his contract was up this year. Cooper looked good to the USC brass, and vice versa.
Lisa Leslie is retiring from the WNBA after this season. Cooper certainly envisioned his future being as head coach in the NBA. He got a shot at that on an interim basis. Whether he ever gets another chance remains to be seen. But right now, with “Smooth” on the way out the door for the Sparks, it makes sense for Cooper to see the USC women’s program as a good landing spot.
Well … it will be when he’s done with his summer job. In the meantime, assistant Ervin Monier will be overseeing things. Monier is a former assistant at Rhode Island and Temple.
In my next post, I’ll look at the coach-hiring decisions in the Pac-10 in recent years, and how that has impacted the conference as a whole. Paul Westhead at Oregon and Cooper at USC are the latest to join the league.
As to the question of whether Cooper’s hiring was a bad decision … I think that’s a “wait and see.” It might turn out well. And at the very least, one would assume that USC does believe it will work, or the school wouldn’t have done it, right?
Which, again, brings up the point: If USC thinks this was a great move, it should act that way.