LOS ANGELES (AP) – — Southern California coach Kevin O’Neill was suspended for the rest of the Pac-10 tournament Friday after getting into a verbal confrontation with an Arizona booster.
The school announced the suspension about two hours before the Trojans played the Wildcats in the semifinals at Staples Center. It said assistant Bob Cantu would take over.
USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement that O’Neill would receive additional discipline that would remain private.
O’Neill apologized through multiple media outlets earlier Friday for what he said was a confrontation involving himself, his wife and the Arizona booster on Thursday night at the team’s hotel after the Trojans’ quarterfinal victory against California.
The coach and his wife, Roberta, stopped at the JW Marriott to pick up some items before returning to their home. As they came off the elevator, O’Neill encountered an Arizona booster with whom he said he doesn’t get along.
O’Neill said he and the booster got into a verbal confrontation in the lobby and that his wife also became involved. He said there was no physical contact and that the argument ended when a security guard approached.
“I want to apologize to my team, our university and our fans for my involvement last night in an incident with a fan,” he said in a statement through the school.
“I understand my behavior as the leader of our team was unacceptable. I used poor judgment and put myself, my team and USC in a bad light. I regret that I have let them down.”
O’Neill is in his second season with the Trojans. He was hired by coach Lute Olson as an assistant at Arizona before the 2007-08 season, and became interim coach when Olson took a medical leave of absence.
O’Neill led the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament that season and was named as Olson’s eventual successor when the Hall of Fame coach decided to retire. However, O’Neill wasn’t kept on when Olson changed his mind.
Haden said he spoke with O’Neill and “expressed my disappointment in his involvement in an incident last night in which he and his wife engaged in an argument with a supporter of another school.
“Coach O’Neill was remorseful and apologetic and accepted responsibility for his actions. He understood that his actions were unacceptable and that they reflect poorly on him, his team and USC,” Haden said.
O’Neill said he respects and accepts the discipline imposed by USC.
“I look forward to learning from this, moving forward and coaching the Trojans well into the future,” he said.
Before the suspension was announced, Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said he knew the Pac-10 and USC were looking into the incident and he had full confidence it would be handled in the proper way.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)