Andy Enfield trying to resurrect USC
He made the impossible happen at FGCU; can he do it with the Trojans?
LOS ANGELES -- Andy Enfield took an anonymous, 16-year-old university often confused for a junior college with a Division I athletics program still in its infancy and turned it into a household name in the span of one weekend.
Which, as it turns out, was a walk in the park compared to the job he has now.
Enfield has traded in Dunk City for Dud City, taking over at USC, which as a university has 117 more years of existence on FGCU, but as a basketball program, has about as much in the way of tradition.
Plot the Trojans' history on a graph and you have the markings of a team with a heart disorder -- blips trending upward followed by precipitous drops.
Only once in its history has USC basketball strung together three NCAA tournament berths in a row; just twice as an entrant in a 64-team field have the Trojans advanced to the second weekend. Each time they followed that season up with a first-round exit.
It's a program that has all the consistency of a wet noodle and the identity to match it.
Enfield rightly points out that when a person walks into a room wearing a USC sweatshirt, everyone knows what it stands for.
Only trouble is, no one is thinking basketball.
And therein is the essence of Enfield's newest challenge.
"At Florida Gulf Coast nobody knew who we were,'' Enfield said. "At USC, people have heard of USC basketball and the school itself, so instead of creating the market and the brand, we're reinventing it here.''
The easy answer for USC's woes is to blame football. The gridiron Trojans surely cast a huge shadow over everything else at the school, including basketball (though it should be noted the fact that Enfield is not Lane Kiffin works heavily in his favor right now).
The football team is housed in nothing shy of a palace. The McKay Center is a 10,000-square-foot, $70 million bow down to pigskin, with state-of-the-art weight rooms, training facilities and academic centers. Other athletes can access it, but it is not unintentional that the third floor is where the football offices reside.
But then again, the hoops team isn't exactly Little Orphan Annie. The spit-shined Galen Center is only 7 years old, but Enfield asked for an updated locker room space and he'll have one by Nov. 1. He thought the golf cart the coaches used to transport recruits across camp was sorry-looking, so he has a shiny, new dark red one now, with big wheels to make it look more urban hip than retirement community transportation.
Besides, plenty of other schools enjoy coexisting successes in basketball and football.
Why not USC basketball?
Put that right next to the riddle of the sphinx.
"To really build something you have to do it for a few years,'' Enfield said. "Why hasn't that been done before or more recently? I really don't know the answer. I don't know.''
Enfield is not the first to walk onto campus bright-eyed and convinced he will be the guy to turn this thing around. USC's roll call is littered with coaches who thought they could succeed where others had failed, only to be swallowed up and spit out by fan apathy, recruiting messes and, in the case of Tim Floyd, an NCAA mess.
What makes Enfield different? For starters, he believes he knows what he's getting himself into. Enfield spent five years alongside Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, another basketball program with a football problem. He not only helped the Seminoles earn their first NCAA tournament bid in 11 years, he watched Florida State sustain it, with three tourney berths in a row.
More than that, though, Enfield and his boss are both hoping that the fact that the coach comes with his own brand will help USC build one.
For once, USC lured the "It" boy on the coaching carousel instead of a recycled second (or third) choice.
Before Kevin Ware stole the headlines, Enfield and his FGCU squad were the story of the NCAA tournament, a swaggering, up-tempo, gutsy unknown that knocked off Georgetown en route to the Sweet 16.
Behind the Eagles stood Enfield, who looks like your average accountant but has an extraordinary backstory -- successful Division III player who took a temporary leave from coaching to help start a million-dollar business, jumped back into coaching and along the way married a model.
Made for Hollywood? Yeah, that's Enfield.
"This wasn't a guy who came out of nowhere. It just seemed that way,'' athletic director Pat Haden said. "This wasn't just a two-week run. He's been successful at every stage of his life -- from valedictorian of his high school class, to All-American as a player to successful businessman. Past success is usually a precursor for future success.''
But FGCU's Sweet 16 run was a two-week advertisement for more than just Enfield; it was a PSA for how he coaches and more, how his teams play.
He is, shall we say, liberal with his green light.
The play that put the lights out on Georgetown came with 2 minutes left and the underdogs holding a 7-point lead. Conventional wisdom says hit the brakes and burn clock. Brett Comer instead tossed an alley-oop to Chase Fieler for a dunk.
Most coaches might have fainted. Enfield grinned.
And Haden took notice.
"We wanted an up-tempo style of basketball,'' he said. "It matters in Los Angeles. It clearly matters in Los Angeles.''
He's right, of course.
Under the painstakingly deliberate style of Kevin O'Neill, the Trojans averaged 65.7 points per game, good for 217th in the country. The product wasn't just bad -- USC finished 14-18 -- it was hard to watch, so not very many people did.
The 10,000-seat Galen Center averaged just 4,243 fans last season.
Into that abyss of points and entertainment saunters Enfield, with the promise of a high-octane offense.
If USC isn't yet intriguing, playing for Enfield is.
His style, coupled with savvy assistant coach hiring -- Enfield brought in Tony Bland and Jason Hart, both California natives with strong West Coast recruiting ties -- has helped the Trojans already break down some barriers in their own backyard.
USC's incoming class is currently ranked 24th by ESPNU and includes Jordan McLaughlin, the top-rated point guard in California. Stanley Johnson, a top-10 player nationally, is listening, which eight months ago would have been laughable.
And now for the hard part -- the games.
Contrary to popular belief, Enfield doesn't have pixie dust in his hip pocket. He's not going to create a miracle overnight. Climbing the ladder in the Atlantic Sun is slightly less daunting than making tracks in the Pac-12. The Trojans were picked 11th in the conference and that's probably not inaccurate.
Still Enfield believes the future he's planning for isn't terribly far away. Every day he drives to his office from his rental home (his family is building a place in Manhattan Beach) in the predawn hours and sees the sun rising above the city.
"I understand what basketball means to this city,'' he said. "I think if we do it the right way, we can make USC a Final Four contender and really have this entire region embrace what we're trying to do. That's what excites me.''
It sounds impossible, but then again, Andy Enfield already has done the impossible once.
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