Andy Enfield's dizzying career move

Originally Published: April 19, 2013
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

On March 6 in a 6,000-seat gym in Macon, Ga., a college basketball coach was doing what every college basketball coach does come the postseason: fretting and worrying and imagining worst-case scenarios.

His team, which led by only two at the half, was still clinging to that point differential with five minutes to play in the quarterfinals of a one-bid tournament.

"I was worried about them hitting a 3 at the buzzer to beat us,'' Andy Enfield said.

Let's just pause right here -- freeze frame that thought for a moment -- if you don't mind, and play the great existential game of "what if?"

What if Enfield's half-empty vision had come to fruition and North Florida, a team that would finish 13-19 in the regular season, did hit a game winning 3-pointer in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Sun tournament?

[+] EnlargeAndy Enfield
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsVictories over Georgetown and San Diego State turned Andy Enfield and Florida Gulf Coast into the talk of the tournament.

Would any of us have heard of Enfield? Of his wife? Of Dunk City? Of Florida Gulf Coast University?

Would Georgetown have won its first-round game and maybe stretched deep into the NCAA tournament like many predicted?

Would Pat Haden still be searching for a head coach at Southern California?

In the movie "Forrest Gump," a feather floats across the screen, attaching one scene to the next. Its meaning is left to individual interpretation. I always thought it went hand-in-hand with one of the meaningful pearls of countrified Gumpian wisdom:

"I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floatin' around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it's both.''

Is Andy Enfield, once the boss at a school so obscure it was referred to as Florida Golf Coast on a CBS telecast and now in charge of USC, home to the song girls and Heismans, fulfilling his destiny? Or was he merely blown from one coast to the next by the quirks and twists of fate?

Maybe it's both.

"Things change so quickly in this business based on success or failure,'' Enfield said. "I never would have imagined all of this. Never.''

College sports, basketball in particular, is made for meteoric trajectories. Catch March lightning in a bottle as a player, a coach or a program and the world is your oyster. As fast as you can say "First Four to Final Four," Shaka Smart became more than a household name; he became a first-name-only-needed star.

But mostly the game, at least on the coaching side, is filled with plodders, guys who climb the ladder rung by rung -- some more quickly than others, perhaps, but most on a similar path.

Consider Joe Dooley. He spent 10 years as Bill Self's assistant at Kansas, helping the Jayhawks to one national title, two final Fours, five Elite Eights, six Sweet 16s, nine Big 12 titles and 300 wins.

And he was just named Enfield's replacement at FGCU.

[+] EnlargeAndy Enfield
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsEnfield says he wants to create a brand for USC basketball.

Enfield's ascent is dizzying, somewhere between crazy and silly on the spectrum of impossibility. Since he paced the sidelines fretting his team would lose to the Ospreys, a mere 44 days have passed.

And in those 44 days Enfield:

• beat North Florida and then upset Mercer on its home court to win the A-Sun tourney.

• led a 16-year-old directional university to the Sweet 16, becoming the first 15-seed to get there. His Eagles upset (more accurately, dismantled) Georgetown and San Diego State to get there.

• featured an offense so fun it inspired a video and a town known for its septuagenarians to temporarily rename itself Dunk City.

• became every man's (and Everyman's) hero for his ability to recruit a supermodel bride over a first date of basketball and Taco Bell.

• traded in his $150,000 gig at FGCU for a $1 million paycheck at USC.

• and finally, appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, trading stories with Charlie Sheen and Brad Paisley.

"I laughed for about 10 seconds after the producer called,'' Enfield said. "I mean, why would they want me? I'm not that funny. Once in a while I may have a one-liner or two, but that's about it.''

Louisville coach Rick Pitino, by the way, was voted into the Hall of Fame, won the national championship and has a horse in the Kentucky Derby.

Leno hasn't called yet.

The chaos and enormity of it all might turn a lot of people upside down, but what Enfield might lack in comedic skills he makes up for in confidence (wife, Taco Bell -- enough said). And while even he marvels at the absurdity of all of this, he remains unflappable as it swirls around him.

He won't even hazard a guess as to the number of interviews and appearances he's done since relocating to the West Coast but allows you to fill in the blanks as he explains a typical day.

"I'm still on East Coast time, so I'm usually up at 4:30 in the morning, sometimes 4, so I'm in the office by 5 or 5:30,'' he said. "I don't usually leave until 10 or 11 at night, and in between it's nonstop.''

It is exactly the sort of energy and attention that the Trojans need. For too long, USC has been like an old house -- good bones, but in desperate need of upgrades.

Plenty will question whether Enfield, with his slim résumé, is the guy to make the improvements. Maybe basketball-wise, it's a legit question -- though the marked improvement that each of his players at FGCU made since he came on board begs the legitimacy of the query.

But in terms of building a program beyond the X's and O's, just look at Enfield's business acumen and background. Here's a former Division III player who managed to turn a sweet free throw stroke into a shot-doctoring career that got him all the way onto an NBA bench. Do you really think that's easier to sell than a Los Angeles address and the letters U-S-C?

"At FGCU, no one knew who we were or what the letters stood for,'' Enfield said. "It was like a marketing strategy. How do we put our name out there? What are we going to be known for? So we went with an up-tempo style, a fun style of play. We're trying to do something similar at USC. The huge advantage here is the national name recognition. We just have to create a brand for USC basketball.''

It's not an easy job. Many have tried to do exactly what Enfield is about to attempt, seeing the exact same combination of appeal and potential he sees at USC, only to leave unable to fix whatever ails the program. The Trojans, for all their name branding, have just two Final Fours in their history and two dates beyond the NCAA tournament's first weekend since 1979.

Of course, Enfield isn't quite like everyone else, either.

Call it destiny, call it floating around on a breeze, but maybe Enfield is just meant to be at USC.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball