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Historically Inept Basketball Coach And Awful Person Kevin O'Neill Fired Again

Kevin O'Neill was relieved of his duties today at USC, allowing me to reflect on how awful Kevin O'Neill was as Northwestern basketball coach and how awful he was overall as a human being.

Gregory Shamus

Today, the University of Southern California made the brilliant decision to fire Kevin O'Neill. USC was a lousy 7-10 to start the season, and on the heels of a 6-26 record last season, in which USC finished in last place in the historically awful Pac-12, this move was overdue. The only reason he wasn't canned after last season is he had a lot of transfers coming in who theoretically had talent, in fact, some observers actually thought USC would make the NCAA tournament this season. But to the surprise of no one who's ever seen O'Neill coach (such as everyone who watched him coach Northwestern from 1997 to 2000), his team sucked this year. The current state of Northwestern basketball may not be great, but at least O'Neill is no longer the coach.

Before we get into the crimes against basketball O'Neill committed as Northwestern head coach, let's talk a bit about his personal conduct. You might think that calling him an awful person in the title of this piece is going a bit too far. But trust me, it's not. Let's take a look at some of the things O'Neill has done over the years.

1. Nicknamed one of his own players "Cuntasaurus"

Presented without comment:

I was a student at Northwestern toward the end of O'Neill's tenure there, and he was an unabashed prick then, and he was also often very funny, and it was sometimes hard to tell where the funny guy began and the prick left off. I'm thinking in particular of poor Aron Molnar, Northwestern's big stiff of a center, a guy whose game was pure kazoo music. Naturally, O'Neill took to calling him "cuntasaurus."

2. Humiliated one of his best players during a game

My favorite incident was during a home game. Sean Wink had messed up and it must have been something they'd been working on, because, boy, did it set off KO...

KO: Hey Sean!
[Wink runs down the court, tries to ignore the coach]
KO: Hey Sean!
[still ignoring]
KO: Hey Sean!
[Wink reluctantly looks towards the bench]
KO: Fuck you!

keep in mind this was at home while play was going on, in full view of fans and administrators.

You'll never believe this, but Wink (who was a great 3-point shooter) transferred from Northwestern after the 1998-99 season.

3. Personally attacked his players' family background and ethnicity

O'Neill's favorite target at Tennessee, according to those in and around the program from 1994-97, was Aaron Green, a 3-point specialist from Cleveland, Tenn., whom O'Neill christened "Hee-Haw" and "Henry the Hick," nicknames that spread all over campus and clung to him like skunk spray for the duration of his career.

"He'd always poke fun at me for being from the country," said Green, now a graduate assistant under Bruce Pearl. "The funny thing is, he was from the country, too. But I didn't feel very comfortable ragging him about it."

That was probably for the best. O'Neill once made Green take his car home -- not home to his dorm. Home, as in back to Cleveland.

"Looking back, he didn't want Aaron Green around," Johnson said. "Did everything in his power to get him to quit. I don't know why."

Then there was the game at Arkansas when O'Neill sent reserve Jason Moore onto the floor. Moore made a handful of mistakes, and Tennessee's lead evaporated. O'Neill screamed at Moore: You better hope you DIE before halftime!

"You could see on the boy's face, he was terrified," Johnson said. "So we get to halftime, and we're all looking at each other like, 'Oh, (bleep). Somebody's about to get (bleeped) up.' And he just went off on that boy the whole halftime. He swore he would never recruit another white boy after that.

O'Neill's record at Tennessee? 36-47.

4. Publicly mocks players he's coached for not reaching their dreams of making the NBA

Kevin O'Neill, the former head man at Arizona, had something to say regarding Wildcats forward Jamelle Horne possibly pointing toward him following a made basket.

Horne hadn't played much when O'Neill was the coach and last season noted that O'Neilldidn't shake the hands of his former players in his return to the McKale Center.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, there's apparently no love lost between the two and O'Neill said he wasn't sure if he saw the gesture:

"I don't know, and it wouldn't matter to me if he did," O'Neill said.

O'Neill paused for a second, and prepared a zinger for Horne, who talked openly of professional aspirations when arriving in Tucson.

"I'm waiting for the NBA career to take off," O'Neill said.

I could go on, but I think you get the point by now. Instead let's take a look at the five most embarrassing losses of Kevin O'Neill's brief Northwestern career. Note that I didn't start following NU until his second of three years, so if there's some humiliation I'm missing, be sure to let me know.

5. Illinois 69, Northwestern 63: February 17th, 1999

This one doesn't look very bad at first glance, and especially not compared to the rest of this list. However, Illinois finished in last place in the Big Ten in 1999, and they were 2-11 in conference play entering this game. Northwestern, meanwhile, on the strength of having 2nd team All-American Evan Eschmeyer (whom O'Neill did not recruit), was on the NCAA bubble, coming in at 6-6 in the Big Ten. But Northwestern lost and fell off the bubble permanently. This was sort of the prequel to that terrible loss Northwestern suffered 11 years later against last place Penn State.

4. USC 85, Northwestern 44: December 29th, 1999

In terms of margin of victory, this was the worst loss of the Kevin O'Neill era. And USC wasn't even good that year: they went 16-14 overall and 9-9 in the Pac 10. Possibly due to post-traumatic stress, I actually vividly remember many details of this game. It was on Fox Sports Net, and in the pregame intro the announcer said something like "watch out for these kitties, you might get scratched" in reference to Northwestern. Awwww. I also remember that the key matchup of the game was NU point guard David Newman against whoever USC's point guard was. At the start of the second half, they revisited the key matchup: USC's dude was having a huge game and Newman had 0 points and 0 assists. Yup.

3. Michigan State 59. Northwestern 29: January 27th, 2000

Michigan State won the national championship in 2000, so losing to them is understandable. However, scoring 29 points over an entire game is not. In this game, Northwestern had a 30.3% turnover rate and a 21.7% effective field goal percentage. I may not be a tempo free expert but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that's not a good thing.

2. Evansville 48, Northwestern 26: November 26th, 1999

Northwestern came into this game at a perfect 1-0 (after a 55-47 win over local powerhouse Chicago State), but in the first round of something called the Hoop & Quill Classic, they scored 26 points against Evansville. For the entire game. And only had 8 in the first half. And again had a higher turnover rate than effective field goal percentage. This against an Evansville team that went 8-8 in the Missouri Valley.

You might be wondering how in the world O'Neill could top only scoring 26 points the entire game against Evansville, but trust me, he topped it:

1. Illinois 63, Northwestern 30: February 19th, 2000

Northwestern struggled offensively in the first half, and were held scoreless until freshman Aaron Jennings (Atkins, Iowa/Benton Community) converted a three-point play with 4:47 left. The Wildcats managed just six first-half points, a season low, and were down 30-6 in the break.


O'Neill's overall record at Northwestern: 30-56 and 9-39 in Big Ten play. And what's even more amazing is the piece of garbage wasn't fired after going 5-25 and 0-16 in the Big Ten in his third year: he actually left in September of 2000 to become an assistant coach with the Knicks.

After his history of incompetence, you might conclude that O'Neill will finally be unable to find a coaching job, but fear not: like the world's worst case of herpes, O'Neill will return to irritate, inflame, and otherwise prevent the unfortunate victim from having any fun.