LOS ANGELES (AP) — Andy Enfield used to drive by the Southern California campus while visiting his brother who lives in the area. He said he would think: “Wow, what a great place.”
Now he’s running the Trojans’ basketball program, a job that athletic director Pat Haden described as a “turnaround situation.”
“We think Andy can handle it,” he said.
Enfield calls it “an unbelievable dream, something that I’ve been working towards for many, many years.”
The 43-year-old coach was introduced Wednesday at Galen Center, where he’ll be tasked with making men’s basketball relevant at a school dominated by its nationally renowned football program.
Enfield comes from Florida Gulf Coast, which caused a stir by becoming the first 15 seed to reach the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. He was 41-28 in his only two seasons as a head coach at Fort Myers, Fla., school. He led the Eagles to a school-record 26 wins this season.
“To get a job like USC, you have to prove you’re a winner and that you’ve done something, and I think we’ve done that,” he said. “What we did at FGCU, I’ve been prepping for 20 years.”
Haden said he didn’t know about Enfield until the NCAA tournament, but that the coach was thoroughly vetted. Among those Haden spoke to was Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, who had Enfield on his staff.
“Leonard Hamilton said, `Hey, Pat, this guy is a star,”‘ Haden said. “He’s got this very aw-shucks type of persona, but inside he burns very competitive juices. He’s got some lion in him.”
Enfield will need that trait to be competitive in the Los Angeles recruiting wars, where he’ll be going head-to-head with new UCLA coach Steve Alford, who successfully recruited the region for the last six years when he was at New Mexico.
“They say, `You’re an East Coast guy,” Enfield said of his critics, “but if you can recruit, you can recruit anywhere.”
Enfield takes over from interim coach Bob Cantu, who had a 7-8 record after succeeding Kevin O’Neill, who was fired in mid-January. The team finished 14-18, including 9-9 in the Pac-12.
The Trojans lost their final three games, including a defeat in their first game of the league tournament. Starting center Dewayne Dedmon and backup big man James Blasczyk were suspended indefinitely and missed the league tourney following allegations the pair was involved in a melee in Spokane, Wash., during the team’s final Pac-12 road trip of the season.
Enfield met with the current players, including Dedmon, and the assistant coaches earlier Wednesday. He has yet to decide whether any of the staff will be retained.
“Our existing roster has to win games for us next year,” he said. “They’re the guys we’re going to rely on.”
Enfield has his work cut out for him in boosting attendance at 10,258-seat Galen Center, which has been open since 2006 and rarely fills for games.
“At Florida State we had very limited fan support. When I left, the place was packed,” he said, citing a similar situation at FGCU. “Basketball is entertainment. You have to entertain the fans and make them want to come. I would not have taken this job unless I felt we could make special things happen.”
Haden cited Enfield’s up-tempo offense as a style that will appeal to players and fans.
“We’re trying to build a program here, not a season,” Haden said. “Five years from now, we can be a Sweet 16 participant, maybe even better than that.”