Bob Cantu, who was USC associate head basketball coach and is in his 12th season with the Trojans men’s basketball program, became, for the second time, head coach of the Trojans on Monday after Athletic Director Pat Haden fired Kevin O’Neill.
In 2011 Cantu coached the Trojans for a game when O’Neill was suspended after getting into a verbal altercation with an Arizona fan at the team hotel during the Pac-10 tournament at Staples Center.
In a brief telephone conversation Monday, Cantu said, “I feel bad for Kevin. I’m grateful for the chance he gave me. He kept me. It’s just unfortunate we haven’t been able to win.”
Cantu has been an assistant to Henry Bibby, Tim Floyd and O’Neill and was an assistant coach at Sacramento State before coming to USC. Cantu said he was told by athletic director Pat Haden on Monday morning that O’Neill had been relieved of his job and that, at least until the end of the year, the job belongs to Cantu.
“I’d like to play a little bit faster, get some easier baskets, push the ball a little more,” Cantu said. “I’m open to playing some zone defense at times so we can play with our two 7-footers together more often. I want to find guys like Ari Stewart and Renaldo Woolridge some more time.”
Cantu said his conversation with Haden was brief. “He said, ‘Bob, we’re making a coaching change and we’d like for you to be interim head coach.’ He said he liked our time and wants to see us competitive in the conference. He said he wants me to be energetic and get guys playing hard. He was very supportive.
“It was a very quick meeting and then I met with the players for 30 or 40 minutes.” Cantu said he had not spoken to O’Neill.