USC suspends Kevin O'Neill

Updated: March 12, 2011, 3:08 PM ET
ESPNLosAngeles.com

USC suspended coach Kevin O'Neill on Friday for the remainder of the Pac-10 tournament in light of his involvement in a verbal altercation with Arizona booster Paul Weitman in a Los Angeles hotel lobby Thursday night.

"We have met with various parties who have knowledge of the incident," USC athletic director Pat Haden said Friday in a statement. "Based on the information we have gathered, I am immediately suspending Coach O'Neill for the balance of the Pac-10 Conference Tournament. We also have set forth additional discipline that will remain private."

Assistant coach Bob Cantu took charge of USC for the rest of the Pac-10 tournament, which ended for the Trojans later Friday night when they lost to Arizona in the first semifinal.

Cantu said he talked to O'Neill briefly on Thursday night after receiving text messages about the incident while he was still at Staples scouting games.

"This morning we met with the team and kind of told them what was going on. But no one really knew what was going to exactly happen," said Cantu, who found out at 3 p.m. that he would be in charge for the first time in a Division I game.

"The guys responded. I could see in their eyes they really wanted to compete and I'm just proud of their efforts."

The Trojans lost 67-62 to the Wildcats.

"It was shocking, I didn't expect to hear that. It kind of caught everybody off-guard," senior Alex Stepheson said. "We would have liked to get this one in honor of him. But it didn't work out."

O'Neill, in his second year at the helm of the Trojans, was with his wife, Roberta, when the incident took place at the JW Marriot.

"I want to apologize to my team, our university and our fans for my involvement last night in an incident with a fan," O'Neill said in a statement Friday.

"I understand my behavior as the leader of our team was unacceptable. I used poor judgment and put myself, my team and USC in a bad light. I regret that I have let them down."

O'Neill watched the Trojans' loss from home.

"It's the first game, practice, shootaround or meeting I've ever missed in my coaching career," he told ESPNLosAngeles.com via phone during the game. "This is very difficult for me."

He also said the altercation wasn't a "fight," characterizing it as more of a loud argument, similar to an umpire-manager spat. He also acknowledged that he had had some history with Weitman prior to Thursday's incident. Nonetheless, he was extremely apologetic throughout the day, issuing various apologies to multiple media outlets in addition to the official USC statement.

"I feel terrible it happened," he told ESPNLosAngeles.com during his team's game. "Obviously I used poor judgement because you have to hold yourself to a higher standard. I really don't want to talk much about the incident itself, but my wife is very supportive of me and it's unfortunate that her name is even involved at all."

Weitman declined comment Friday when approached by ESPNLosAngeles.com.

O'Neill hoped the controversy wouldn't affect his team adversely.

"I feel very good about the job we've done and how we've coached our team and I am very, very appreciative of our players and what they do all the time," he told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "They've worked exceptionally hard.

"I feel like I've let my team down, which is the worst feeling you can have as a coach."

Added O'Neill: "I feel good about the job we've done and I feel great about the way the players have responded. They've been special to coach these past two years, through all the adversity. They deserve for me to do a better job than for me to get suspended from a game."

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott was satisfied with Haden's handling of the situation, saying in a statement that "we commend USC for its actions."

O'Neill was an assistant at Arizona under Lute Olson and an interim coach for one season three years ago and at one point was announced at a news conference as Olson's successor by then athletic director Jim Livengood. But at the end of the season O'Neill and the school agreed to part ways. He took an assistant coaching job with the Memphis Grizzlies before being hired at USC last year.

O'Neill said the Trojans should be an NCAA tournament team whether they win or lose against Arizona. He doesn't think his suspension will affect the Trojans' chances for an at-lerge berth.

"The people that make those decisions are smart people," he told ESPNLosAngeles.com in reference to the selection committee. "They understand where this is at. I think they'll judge our team based on what we do on the court."

The Trojans have nonconference wins over Texas at home and at Tennessee. USC lost four of nine games when Fordham transfer and starting guard Jio Fontan sat out to start the season. USC ended the season with a win at Washington and crushed Cal in the Pac-10 quarterfinals Thursday night at Staples Center before falling to Arizona on Friday night.

Information from ESPN.com senior college basketball writer Andy Katz, ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne, Pedro Moura and Michael Thompson, ESPN.com college basketball reporter Diamond Leung and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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