Parker Hangs in Balance : USC Basketball Coach's Future Uncertain, but Rumors Are Rife

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Charlie Parker, USC interim coach, has heard the rumors. According to one, former UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian will replace him next season. According to another, it will be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But Parker is too concerned with reality to deal with rumors.

"I've heard them, but I've tried to be positive and not think about them or my situation," said Parker, whose Trojans are 7-11 overall and 2-6 in the Pacific 10 Conference, entering Thursday night's game at the Sports Arena against UCLA.

"There's enough pressure every day just to coach. I knew what the situation was for me from the start. So all I can do is go out and do my job, and that's coach."

Ever since George Raveling announced his retirement and Parker, 45, was named interim coach by USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett two days before the start of the season, the rumors have circulated.

"They've been out there flying," Garrett said. "They are things that I've had to deal with and so has Charlie. I think that I've done a very good job in making Charlie feel comfortable and giving him a chance to show his wares.

"I don't think that either one of those guys (Tarkanian or Abdul-Jabbar), as I look at them right now, have gotten the consideration from me that one would think that I'm looking for in a new coach."

Garrett told Parker when he named him to the interim position that he would have an opportunity to earn the job.

Under Parker's up-tempo style, however, the Trojans have had problems.

With a four-game losing streak and the chances of finishing above .500 slim because of a schedule that has the Trojans playing seven of their final 10 games against nationally ranked opponents, it might be assumed that Parker's job is in jeopardy. But Garrett said Tuesday that he remains undecided.

"I'm still evaluating Charlie, and I can't tell you before I tell him," he said. "I told him when he took over that he wasn't required to win. I wanted to see him institute a new fast-paced offense and basic man-to-man defense. . . . I also wanted to see the growth of the kids and see how they made the transition to a new coach and a new system.

"I told (Parker) if he did that well, and the kids were growing, that's how I would evaluate him. . . . If I felt that he has promise and all that, I would hire him."

Garrett said that he does not have a deadline for a decision, but he plans to make one soon.

"I know that I have to make a decision within a reasonable time, but I don't want to pinpoint a time like I have to do it within a week or two or three or four," he said. "Basically, I actually have not thought of anyone but Charlie. I just have not set a timetable."

Recruiting is another area in which Parker might be judged.

In his seven years as an assistant under Raveling, Parker gained a reputation as a recruiter and has received commitments this season for two of the Trojans' three available scholarships from Damion Dawson, a 6-foot-4 point guard from Long Beach, and Maurice Strong, a 6-9 forward from Tennessee.

Parker, however, was disappointed last week, when Paul Pierce, a blue-chip player from Inglewood High, announced that he would attend Kansas. Other local recruits have expressed concern about Parker's status.

"It's tough because I really like SC, but I know that (Parker) is only in as an interim coach right now," said one Southern California high school junior, who is being recruited nationally. "I have to look into what's best for me, and the uncertainty over there is a problem."

So how does Parker's status as an interim coach affect Garrett's judgment on his recruiting talents?

"I was looking to see, and I'm still looking to see how he handles recruiting," Garrett said. "If you were me looking at the situation, the one thing you would want to see is how he handles this as a test.

"My feeling about recruiting is that we haven't done well in that area for a while. I wasn't going to make recruiting such a high priority (for) a coach. I believe and know that a good coach can turn a program around. It's more important to me to watch an individual and see how he works."

Parker's biggest problem in turning the Trojans into a full-court, up-tempo team has been a lack of players. With Tremayne Anchrum and Kirk Homenick sidelined for the season because of knee injuries and the transfer before the season of Avondre Jones, USC has only nine active scholarship players.

In a season in which the Pac-10 has regularly had at least five teams ranked in the top 25, this has not been a good time for a rookie coach to break in with a depleted lineup.

"He's been playing without a full deck when you consider all of the injuries we've had and the turmoil at the beginning of the season," said Anchrum, who will return for his senior year after redshirting this season. "It's been a real tough situation, but he's done a great job with what he's had to work with. There's been times when he didn't even have 10 people to scrimmage with."

Some of Parker's critics have said that USC should have stayed with a more deliberate style to keep opponents' scoring down. Parker disagrees.

"That's not me because my philosophy has always been to have a high-scoring team that plays full-court pressure defense," he said. "When I was at Wayne State, my teams were like that, and looking at the big picture, we can have the same type of program here.

"Right now, we may not have enough players to fit our new style, and that is hurting us. But in order to establish what we want to do, we have to do it that way. Of course, I know that I may be taking a chance in looking at the big picture, but I have to be optimistic and believe that I'm going to be here to win some games with an exciting brand of basketball."

Parker's biggest group of supporters might be his players. Freshman guard Cameron Murray considered transferring when Raveling retired but not now.

"If Coach Parker gets the job, I know that I would be here for all four years," said Murray, who has started for most of the season. "It's been the best experience in the world for me in that he has allowed me to play through my mistakes and learn.

"When you decide on a college, you usually do so because of the coach and not strictly because of the basketball team and the university. When I decided to come to USC, Coach Raveling was here, but because of the situation, it's now Coach Parker. At first, I did think of leaving, but now I'm glad I didn't."

But having his players' support might not be enough for Parker.

"I kind of have an understanding of what they feel," Garrett said. "But I'm the one who has to live by this decision. They'll only have to be here two or three more years, while I have to look at what the impact will be for a long time. If I choose to not rehire Charlie Parker as coach, it will be (because I found) someone as good, if not better, than Charlie. If (the players) choose (to transfer), they have a right to do so. But I have to look at the long haul."

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