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Bob Boyd dies at 84; coached USC basketball team during Wooden era

Longtime USC basketball coach Bob Boyd, crosstown rival of UCLA's John Wooden, dies at 84

The only USC basketball team Bob Boyd led to the NCAA tournament, in 1979, was eliminated by DePaul in a West Regional game played at Pauley Pavilion. It was also Boyd's last game as the Trojans' coach after he had previously announced his intention to resign at the end of the season. It seemed a cruel, but fitting, farewell.

Boyd coached his final USC game on the home court of rival UCLA, the program that tormented his otherwise successful, if not geographically fortunate, career.

Boyd, the man who led USC basketball at the height of John Wooden's UCLA dynasty, died Wednesday in Palm Desert of natural causes, the university announced. He was 84.

A Southern California native and 1948 Alhambra High graduate, Boyd enjoyed other pursuits and coached other places. He sold athletic sneakers, dabbled in real estate and even, in 1969, turned down a chance to replace Bill Van Breda Kolff as coach of the Lakers.

His legacy, though, is tied to the 13 seasons he toiled, from 1966 through '79, at the apex of UCLA's unprecedented basketball dominance.

"I was at the right place at the wrong time," Boyd once told The Times.

Boyd's timing could not have been worse. He made his USC coaching debut against UCLA the same day 7-foot-1 sophomore phenom Lew Alcindor made his first varsity start for the Bruins. Alcindor, who would later become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, scored 56 points in a runaway victory.

Boyd's first nine years intersected with Wooden's last nine. Wooden's teams won NCAA titles in eight of those years, failing only in 1973-74. UCLA's record in Boyd's first nine years at USC was 259-12.

It was like opening a burger stand next to McDonald's.

Boyd and the rest of the college basketball world never stood a chance. The difference was Boyd worked 13 miles from the epicenter and had to play UCLA at least twice each season.

"I was in a unique situation," Boyd once said, "in that for the majority of years that I was in the crosstown rivalry, the crosstown team kept winning national championships."

USC Athletic Director Pat Haden, who played football for the Trojans in the early 1970s, recalled Boyd's tenure at USC on Wednesday night.

“He had USC basketball going when I was here," Haden said. "Unfortunately, he had a pretty good coach across town. I remember one year I think we went [24-2] and the two losses were to UCLA and only one team went to the tournament.

"He is one of the all-time USC greats and we will miss him. We’ve had our ups and downs in basketball, but he had it really rocking when he was the coach."

As a USC player, Boyd was named his team's MVP in 1952. Wooden defeated Boyd's Trojans four times that season.

Two years before accepting the USC job, Boyd coached Seattle University into the 1964 NCAA Tournament, only to be eliminated by — you guessed it — Wooden's first national championship team.

Boyd finished 216-131 at USC, was twice named conference coach of the year and produced a line of future NBA players that included Paul Westphal and Gus Williams. Boyd, though, never claimed a league championship.

He announced in early 1979 he would resign at the end of that season. At that point he had lost 18 straight games to UCLA. Boyd's USC teams finished second or third 10 times in conference play. It was good — just not UCLA good. His overall record against the Bruins was 2-25.

Boyd suffered in an era when a much smaller NCAA Tournament was limited to one school per conference.

The USC squad of 1970-71, led by Westphal, finished 24-2 but did not qualify because it did not win the league title. Both defeats were against conference champion UCLA. USC also got shut out of the NCAA Tournament by UCLA in 1974, despite winning 24 games.

The highlight of Boyd's USC tenure, clearly, was providing the two losses in Wooden's astonishing 149-2 record at Pauley Pavilion.

Boyd infuriated UCLA fans and perhaps even Wooden when he used stalling tactics to stun the Alcindor-led Bruins, 46-44, on March 8, 1969. It marked UCLA's first loss at Pauley, which opened in 1966, ended the Bruins' winning streak at 41 games, and was UCLA's lone defeat in a 29-1 championship season.

Boyd never forgot, in his USC debut, getting embarrassed by Alcindor. He told his wife Betty on the drive home, "We've got to play this guy seven more times. I thought he was the best player in the world then. I had to come up with something to give us a chance to win."

Boyd was 0-6 against UCLA entering Alcindor's senior season in 1968-69. Boyd had tried everything, including the stall, to slow college basketball's most dominant player.

USC and UCLA played on consecutive days, Friday and Saturday, in March 1969. With no 35-second shot clock in those days, USC played keepaway from Alcindor in the Friday game at the Sports Arena but lost a double-overtime heartbreaker. Boyd needed a police escort off his home floor and, according to game accounts, was spat upon by disgruntled patrons who had paid to see Alcindor.

The next day in Westwood, though, the stall strategy paid off as USC prevailed by two on Ernie Powell's game-winning basket. Some thought Boyd was making a mockery of the game.

"Give me Alcindor, and I wouldn't play it that way either," Boyd would counter the criticism.

Wooden, who died in 2010, stated publicly he thought the ploy was not good for college basketball.

"The writers felt I was being critical of Bob and I was not," Wooden reflected years later in an interview with The Times. "I think he did what was in their best interest. I did say stalling was not good for the game. But I was not criticizing him."

USC also defeated UCLA at Pauley in 1970, 87-86, but the Bruins had already clinched the league title on their way to another NCAA title.

Some USC boosters became disenchanted when Boyd kept losing to UCLA even after Wooden's 1975 retirement. In fact, USC went 1-13 and 2-12 in Pac-8 play in 1976 and '77.

Boyd survived, though, and had USC back on track when he abruptly announced in January 1979 that it would be his last season. It was speculated that Boyd was upset because his contract had not been extended during the season. Boyd almost immediately regretted his decision after the Trojans finished 20-9 and earned their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1961.

Boyd later told The Times, "I thought somebody would say, 'Hey, wait a minute, we want you to stay. We love you.' But they said, 'OK, great, there's the door.'"

Boyd was born June 8, 1930, and developed into an All-CIF basketball player at Alhambra High before earning a varsity letter three years at USC. Boyd went on to coach high school locally, including at his alma mater. Darrall Imhof, one of Boyd's former Alhambra players, led Cal to the 1959 NCAA title and also played for the Lakers.

Six impressive years at Santa Ana College earned Boyd a job at Seattle, where he went 41-13 in two seasons.

Boyd was rocked, however, when the FBI discovered three of his players had failed to report a bribe attempt to fix games. No charges were filed, but Boyd resigned to sell shoes for Converse.

After leaving USC, Boyd coached at Mississippi State (1982-85), Riverside Community College (1989) and Chapman University (1990-92). He later served as an assistant coach at Utah State and Louisiana State.

In 2001, Boyd was elected to USC's Athletic Hall of Fame.

Boyd's wife, Betty, whom he met at Alhambra High, died in 2013. He is survived by their sons Bill — who played basketball for USC from 1973-76 — Jim and John, and 10 grandchildren. Another son, Bruce, predeceased him.

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

Twitter: @DufresneLATimes

 

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

7:50 a.m., Jan. 15: This post has been updated with comment from USC Athletic Director Pat Haden.

This post was originally published at 7:25 p.m., Jan. 14.

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