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Wins, not words, count most

Citizen Staff Writer



I wonder if Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood regrets ever uttering the words “win the press conference.”

He said that back on Dec. 1, talking about the kind of basketball coach who would make a good fit at Arizona. Has to have a track record. Has to have had recent success.

And then he added:

“We also need to win the press conference – however you phrase that, or however you put that, or however you interpret that.”

That line has gotten miles of mileage, artificially setting a standard of expectations that Arizona apparently won’t be able to meet. That doesn’t mean UA won’t hire a fine college basketball coach, it just means it’s hard to win the press conference with, say, Tim Floyd.

Just so we’re clear, let’s interpret. Winning the press conference: Hiring a coach of such unassailable superiority that the masses couldn’t help but stand and applaud and thank the basketball gods for their good fortune.

Winning the press conference is what Kentucky did Wednesday with John Calipari.

Winning the press conference is what Arizona could have done with Calipari or Rick Pitino or Tom Izzo or Jamie Dixon.

Perhaps those were pipe dreams all along, out of reach because of money or location or because those guys already have really good jobs. Or maybe because Arizona Basketball isn’t the evergreen garden-spot destination that lives in fans’ minds.

The point is, it will be hard for Livengood to live up to his words. He should never have said them.

But, at the end of the day, they will be just that – words.

At this point, no matter who Livengood and school president Robert Shelton have picked, it will be impossible to sell that coach as the school’s first, second, third, fourth or (insert your own number here) choice.

Nobody will buy it.

Doesn’t mean it will be a bad hire.

There are more than five or 10 or three dozen good college basketball coaches in the world. Sometimes you can even find a good one doing radio broadcasts for Arizona State.

You can hire a good – no, great – coach while losing the press conference.

For more on this, see: Carroll, Pete.

Yeah, we’re mixing sports here, and Carroll might be a glorious exception, but he was way down on the list when USC, having fired Paul Hackett, went looking for a football coach after the 2000 season.

USC had pursued Mike Riley, Dennis Erickson and Mike Bellotti, among others, getting only a pile of rejection letters.

After the Trojans selected Carroll – who had twice been fired from NFL teams and who had never been a college head coach – USC received more than 2,500 calls, faxes and e-mails of criticism, according to the Orange County Register.

USC did not, in any way, win the press conference that day.

Since then, it has won a lot of Pac-10 championships.

If it is indeed Floyd – and a Tucson Citizen source said he was in Tucson on Wednesday meeting with UA officials – it won’t be the first time he was somebody’s fall-back pick.

He once said he was about the fifth choice at Idaho, which gave Floyd his head coaching start in 1986.

He once said he was about the fifth choice at Iowa State, where he won 81 games in four seasons and went to the 1997 Sweet 16.

He was USC’s second choice to replace Henry Bibby, who was fired early in the 2004-05 season. The Trojans originally went with Rick Majerus, who had the job for five days before changing his mind.

USC hired Floyd in January 2005 while interim coach Jim Saia finished out the season.

“I fully understand why Rick Majerus was the first choice; he’s a phenomenal basketball coach,” Floyd said at his introductory press conference.

“I thought about it and had to deal with it in my own ego. The best way I could put it in perspective is that I think if my wife was really choosing I don’t think that I would have been her first choice, either.”

Anyway, Floyd ended up being a much better choice than Majerus.

Arizona won’t land any of its dreamboat picks, but it’s funny that when Calipari left for Kentucky, Floyd’s name instantly popped up as a leading candidate at Memphis.

Floyd, apparently, could win the press conference in Memphis.

Could he do the same in Tucson?

As soon as Thursday, you might get to be the judge – even if winning the press conference isn’t much of a measuring stick.

Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: agimino@tucsoncitizen.com

‘We also need to win the press conference – however you phrase that, or however you put that, or however you interpret that.’


UA athletic director, on Dec. 1

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