Hold On To Your Seats: Here Comes Floyd
Some call getting Tim Floyd to coach the UTEP basketball team this past week a dream come true. Some call it a prayer answered. I call it a heaven-sent miracle. That’s because all the stars had to be aligned just right. First, the position had to be open. It became open after Tony Barbee left for Auburn. Second, Floyd had to be available. He became available after resigning from USC. And third, enough time had to have elapsed after Don Haskins’ retirement. It had. Floyd didn’t want to succeed his mentor, his hero. He figured he could never win such a comparison. He said, “You win 25 games and they say, ‘Hell, he would have won 28.’ Win a national championship game, they’d say, ‘Well, coach beat him by seven, you only beat them by two.’” Ah, but now, four other different UTEP coaches ahead of him, Floyd felt the time was right.
WHATEVER, Tim Floyd is back and El Pasoans are figuratively leaping with joy. You see, when he was Haskins’ assistant coach from 1978 through 1986 he was more than just a coach. He was the boy next door. He was young and handsome and full of energy and potential. Older folks loved him like a son. Younger folks looked up to him like a rising star. We watched him roam the sidelines, arguing, pleading, encouraging. I have an unforgettable photo showing him on his knees with arms outstretched, almost in tears, begging to differ with an official’s call. That photo appeared in Haskins’ autobiography, “Haskins: The Bear Facts.”
AND OH, what a recruiter he was. Here’s what Haskins wrote about him: ”He used to wear me out recruiting. He never took ‘no’ for an answer. He would have me go out to talk with some players and we wouldn’t get back until 11 p.m. I’d be dog-tired when I got to bed. ‘Persistent’ is too soft a word to describe him.” Haskins predicted that with such a talent for recruiting Floyd would be a big success as a head coach. And he was. It broke our hearts when he left UTEP to take his first head coaching job at University of Idaho. His recruiting had helped Haskins and the Miners win five straight Western Athletic Conference championships. But we understood he had to go find his spot in life. And we wished him luck.
FLOYD DID well at every college he coached. He even turned the basketball program around at Southern Cal, which had always taken a back seat to UCLA. And the Chicago Bulls thought so highly of him they chose him to try to do the impossible: Continue winning big after coach Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan were gone. He couldn’t, of course. No one could have. So he returned to college coaching and continued winning. And here he is today back at UTEP, older at 56 but still exceptionally good-looking and still full of vim and vinegar. And there’s hope that because of his age, he will be like Don Haskins and stay here until his retirement. What a blessing that would be for the Miners after those come-and-go coaches we’ve had to suffer.
LET’S GIVE a big thanks to UTEP athletic director Bob Stull. He didn’t just sit around making phone calls and thinking and guessing after Barbee quit. With the blessing of UTEP president Dr. Diana Natalicio, Stull took the bull by the horns and personally went after his prey. He knew El Pasoans wanted Tim Floyd, he knew he wanted Tim Floyd and despite some problems nailing him down Stull succeeded. Not that Tim played hard to get; it’s that he was on the go all the time. Stull has done many incredible things to improve the athletic department at UTEP and his getting Floyd here will go down alongside his best.
WILL FLOYD be an instant success? So much depends on what happens with the present UTEP players. Will all of them stay? Will Floyd bring some of his USC recruits here? How will the assistant coaching staff shape up? I don’t know, but I’m advising El Pasoans to hold on to their seats. Folks, I’ve got a feeling we’re in for a heck of a ride with UTEP basketball.
Veteran sports journalist and author Ray Sanchez welcomes suggestions for his column. Contact him at (915) 584-0626, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.raysanchezbooks.com