In a surprise move Wednesday, USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett fired basketball Coach Charlie Parker and named first-year assistant Henry Bibby to the position for the season's remaining nine games.
Garrett denied in a news conference that former Phoenix Sun Coach Paul Westphal had been contacted to return to his alma mater as coach next season, but USC sources said Bibby has been asked to remain as Westphal's top assistant in the event he is hired. Bibby denied that.
"This is a situation where we want to deal with the problem at hand," said Garrett, who along with associate athletic director Daryl Gross met with Westphal and offered him the job last month when USC played at Arizona State, sources said.
"I had just been watching the kids the last couple of weeks, and I felt that it was time to make a decision."
Westphal, fired by the Suns last month, could not be reached at his Arizona home Wednesday. His wife declined comment.
Bibby, 46, is a former UCLA All-American and has 14 years of college and pro coaching experience. He arrived at USC after coaching a club team in Venezuela. He also coached for eight seasons in the CBA and was the league's coach of the year in 1989 after leading Tulsa to the title.
"I was surprised but not necessarily with the timing," said Bibby, the only player to play for an NCAA, NBA and CBA championship team. "I was surprised in that it happened at all."
Going into tonight's game at Stanford, USC is in sixth place in the Pacific 10 Conference with a 4-5 record and an 11-10 mark overall after finishing 7-21 last season. The Trojans have lost nine of their last 14 games, but they played seven top 25 teams during that stretch and have the conference's toughest schedule.
Parker, who had his interim tag removed last March 24, met with Garrett at 8 a.m. Wednesday and was told he was being fired before the team traveled to play Stanford and California this weekend.
"Without notice, I was summoned to Mike Garrett's office and, to say the least, to my utter surprise and amazement [was fired]," said Parker, who had an 18-31 record as head coach and had been at USC for eight years. "No reasons were given to me."
The Black Coaches Assn. said it will investigate the firing.
"Initial reports seem to suggest that the firing took place without just cause or notice," the BCA, an organization of black college coaches, said in a statement.
"At the completion of the inquiry, the BCA's Executive Board, civil rights organizations and others will render a decision as to the position the BCA will take in this matter. One choice being that of a boycott against the Trojan athletic department, whereby all student-athletes would be encouraged to attend college elsewhere."
Garrett said he felt a change had to be made because of the players' lack of progress on and off the court.
"It was not a decision made from wins and losses, but a decision that I had been mulling over the last couple of weeks," Garrett said. "I have been watching the team closely the entire season, and over the last two weeks is when I decided."
Sources close to Garrett said the lack of discipline on the team and the lack of communication between Parker and his staff, including Bibby, led to the firing.
"When young student-athletes do not feel good about a situation, you can tell from their actions," Garrett said. "Everything had an impact. It was not just one or two isolated incidents."
During the season, Parker had to kick guards Stais Boseman and Cameron Murray out of practice for discipline problems. Several times, Parker had to discipline center Avondre Jones for missing team functions, including an incident that forced Parker to remove Jones from the starting lineup against Oregon State last Thursday.
Bibby learned of the firing from Parker, and soon after was offered the interim position by Garrett. Bibby said he needed a 30-minute walk before deciding to take over.
"I wasn't sure that I wanted the position, but I thought about the opportunity and who else would come in and finish out the season," Bibby said. "I think that I and the remainder of the coaching staff have the obligation to the student-athletes here and that we deserve to finish out the year with them. It would have been totally a disservice if we all had said we are leaving also. To me, the most important people are our young people.
"My decision was to finish out the nine games or whatever they wanted me to do and then sit down and make a decision myself if I wanted to continue."
After finishing with 14 consecutive losses last season as interim coach, a position he assumed two days before the season after George Raveling was injured in an auto accident, Parker was left in limbo while Garrett held a nationwide search for a new coach.
Several coaches reportedly were considered, including Jerry Tarkanian, Tommy Amaker, Paul Westhead and Mike Jarvis, but according to sources close to the search, Parker was given the position because USC could not afford to pay the salary needed to attract a big-name coach.
The Suns, however, are obligated to pay Westphal $2.4 million over the next two seasons. Depending on terms of that arrangement, that could make money less of a factor for USC in hiring him.
Parker clearly was upset over his dismissal and directed his anger toward Garrett. Parker said they met only once in the last six weeks before Wednesday.
"I received a giant amount of interference from the athletic department about how a program should be run," Parker said.
"I never received any criticism about my performance, about my staff or myself," said Parker, who said he might take legal action against USC.
"I've never done anything to cause him to treat me in such an unprofessional manner. My staff and I achieved in spite of the interference by Garrett and his inexperience [with] the complex workings of a Division I basketball program."
USC's players seemed shocked to hear of Parker's firing when called for an emergency team meeting. Senior Ty Reuter said it was unfortunate for Parker because the team still has a chance to make a postseason tournament.
"I don't think that a change had to be made," Reuter said. "We've grown as a team a lot from last year, maybe not as much as we should have, but we have grown."