USC has tabbed Andy Enfield to run its basketball program and rescue it from the doldrums of mediocrity they have been plagued by since Tim Floyd left the school with probation. Obviously Enfield is a hot name right now after winning the Atlantic Sun tournament with Florida Gulf Coast and becoming the first ever 15th seeded team to advance to the Sweet 16.
This is, of course, a pretty rare type of hire, and I think an unprecedented one. Obviously as the first coach to guide a 15 seed to the Sweet 16, Enfield is already unique. But beyond that, he has assumed basically a start up program (he took over FGCU in their first season of eligibility and took them to 41 wins in their first two seasons). That is pretty damn impressive. Also impressive is the quality of recruits he has gotten so quickly. Brett Comer was thought to be a solid mid major recruit, and Enfield convinced him to play at a start up low major program.
The general reaction on twitter was split into two pretty distinct camps: on one hand, Enfield was highly sought after pretty clearly because of their two wins in the NCAA tournament. Heck, they didn’t even win the regular season Atlantic Sun title. I totally get where this is coming from: Dan Monson won 52 games from 1997-1999 at Gonzaga, and became a red hot candidate after taking the Bulldogs to the 1999 Elite 8. Of course, he bombed at Minnesota, making just 1 NCAA tournament in 7 years there, and winning 20 games just once. He was just 118-106 there. The parallels are pretty similar, with Minnesota coming out of probation at the time and USC now. I’m certainly not saying Enfield will be Dan Monson, but I can see where the trepidation comes from.
The other group really likes the hire. Some of these people are basing it on FGCU’s NCAA tournament run, and that’s wrong, but looking deeper Enfield is a much stronger candidate than those two wins. He was an assistant under Rick Pitino for the Boston Celtics, worked two seasons for the Milwaukee Bucks, and then five seasons as an assistant under Leonard Hamilton at Florida State.
At FGCU, Enfield’s offense was 19th best in the country at shooting twos, and, no doubt learning from Hamilton (who is one of the best defensive coaches in the country), Enfield brought FGCU’s adjusted defensive efficiency from 241st to 88th in the country. Some of that is thanks to some three point luck, but he has gotten large improvements in a hurry.
Enfield set the NCAA record for free throw percentage as a player. I mention that not because being a good player means he will be a good coach (if anything, it is the opposite) but because of Enfield’s early days as a coach. NBA teams and players paid him to teach them how to shoot better. Beyond the dunking and the alley oops and whatnot, Enfield has an easy selling point to recruits: I can teach you, for free, what NBA teams and players paid me to teach them.
Of course, the style of play doesn’t hurt either. Steve Alford has recruited California well lately, but he hasn’t had a team ranked in the top 100 fastest teams in the country as a head coach. Meanwhile, FGCU was 42nd this year, and while I don’t think USC will start pulling in McDonalds All-Americans left and right, there will be more than a few good recruits, especially SoCal natives who want to stay home, and will look at the respective styles of these two coaches. Not all will choose that style over UCLA’s (or Arizona’s, or San Diego State’s, or whomevers), but enough will that it makes this a smart hire. Enfield is certainly a gamble, but USC probably wasn’t getting anyone better. The circumstances around the job, the culture in SoCal, and Enfield’s style of play makes this an exciting hire for the Trojans, and for a program that went 14-18 last year and has had 3 head coaches since 2005, that’s an important piece of the puzzle.