USC reinstates Kevin O'Neill

Updated: March 14, 2011, 1:47 AM ET
ESPNLosAngeles.com

After suspending Kevin O'Neill on Friday, USC reinstated its men's head basketball coach on Sunday, athletic director Pat Haden announced.

"Effective immediately, I am reinstating Kevin O'Neill as our men's basketball head coach," Haden said in a statement. "Coach O'Neill and I have talked numerous times these past few days. He has continued to express his regret and embarrassment over the incident that led to his suspension from any remaining games of the Pac-10 Conference Tournament.

"... Further, he understands that he let them down as their role model and leader. He has apologized to his team, as well as to me, our administration, our fans and the Pac-10."

O'Neill was suspended 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.

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 Marriott.

"I'm excited to be back coaching the Trojans and I am looking forward to the postseason," O'Neill said. "This is a special team and we have shown that we can compete with anyone in the country.

"But I temper my excitement of being reinstated with the realization that I made a serious error in judgment the other night. The disciplinary measures that Pat Haden took, including the suspension, were absolutely the right call. My wife, Roberta, and I are both very apologetic for the embarrassment we caused the Trojan Family. We vow to move forward in a positive manner."

Until O'Neill was reinstated, he said he feared he would lose his job.

"Yeah, of course, anytime you're a coach of a major college football or basketball program, and you screw up either socially or NCAA-wise, you've put yourself in jeopardy," O'Neill said. "There's so much responsibility that comes with being a head coach of a program like the USC Trojans, and when you have a major screw-up like I had, of course your job's in jeopardy.

"My job is to not screw up again, and I realize if I do screw up again it will be a serious situation."

Haden said O'Neill still faces additional discipline by the school and a fine.

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, 67-62, in the first semifinal.

"It was a difficult lesson for Coach O'Neill," Haden said. "I believe the suspension served its purpose and will eliminate any such inappropriate behavior by Coach O'Neill in the future. Although he has been reinstated, Coach O'Neill knows that he still faces additional institutional discipline and a fine."

O'Neill understood the decisions and appreciated the support from USC.

"I really appreciate the support the university's given me through this situation. It was definitely the right thing to do," said O'Neill. "It set a standard not only for our team but for our athletic department and for the Pac-10, and I look forward to representing our university in the best of all circumstances going forward."

O'Neill doesn't have much time to get his team ready for its next game.

Hours after O'Neill was reinstated, the Trojans learned they had squeezed into the NCAA tournament. USC was one of the last teams to receive an at-large bid to the newly expanded 68-team field Sunday and will play Virginia Commonwealth (23-11) in a first-round game Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio.

USC players rejoiced when the brackets were announced.

Alex Stepheson tackled walk-on James Dunleavy; Nikola Vucevic yelled while jumping up and down; and tears flowed as guard Jio Fontan embraced his father.

"It was crazy, it was wild. You just felt the positive energy. You just felt everybody's excitement," Fontan said.

The USC-VCU winner will be seeded 11th in the Southwest Regional and face No. 6 seed Georgetown (21-10) on Friday in Chicago.

Had the Trojans been omitted from the NCAA field, O'Neill said he knows his indiscretion would have been even more scrutinized.

"Every loss gets blamed on something and that would've been an easy blame," O'Neill said. "The coach gets suspended for the game and you can't play [in the NCAA tournament].

"I'm relieved we got into the tournament, but I'm more relieved for the players than for me because they deserved it."

USC has made the NCAA tournament the last four times it has been eligible, but as players watched while other teams were called Sunday, doubt started to creep in.

"At first [when] they were picking some teams that were on the bubble, I kind of got nervous. I thought we weren't going to make it," Vucevic said. "Once I saw our name on the screen, it was just one of the best feelings I've ever had in my life."

Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Pedro Moura and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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