Lavin eager to leave TV, get back into coaching at San Diego

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Steve Lavin has been itching to leave broadcasting college basketball and go back to coaching, even if it means being in the same conference as Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.

Lavin was introduced Friday as coach in San Diego, which has struggled for most of the past 15 seasons, and not always because of the tough teams that are always atop the West Coast Conference.

Lavin, 57, who was a regular at NCAA tournaments as a coach at UCLA and St. John’s, said he told his new team he missed being on a college campus and the camaraderie with the players and staff.

“When you’re a broadcaster, you’re undefeated,” Lavin said at a news conference on campus. “It’s wonderful to be undefeated, but it’s not the same experience. This has more meaning. That’s why, almost like an extended sabbatical, I enjoyed my time on television, but in the end I want to go back to training because I miss it.”

Lavin was hired after extensive interviews with Toreros athletic director Bill McGillis during the Final Four in New Orleans. The two flew back to San Diego together on Wednesday night, when the school announced the hire.

McGillis said the USD players, who sat in the first two rows at the news conference, “are interested in competing at the championship level and I wanted to find a head coach who could bring the attributes to do so. We found a great head coach, a great leader who can help shape this program for the next decade.”

McGillis would not disclose the length of Lavin’s contract.

Lavin replaces Sam Scholl, who was fired March 6 after the Toreros finished 15-16, the third consecutive losing season in his four-year tenure. San Diego has had just four winning seasons and one NCAA Tournament appearance, as well as a point-reducing scandal, under three coaches since Brad Holland was fired after going 18-14 in 2006-07.

Holland, who played at UCLA and then for four years in the NBA, went 200-176 in 13 seasons in USD. He was fired in part because athletic management at the time wanted to be more like Gonzaga and went so far as to hire Zags assistant Bill Grier. USD won the conference tournament and went to the NCAA Tournament in Grier’s first season, but only had one winning season in Grier’s next seven seasons.

Lamont Smith had a winning season in his three years as coach. Scholl was promoted to interim coach at the end of the 2017–18 season after Smith was placed on administrative leave following an arrest on suspicion of domestic violence. No charges were filed against Smith, who resigned.

New San Diego men’s basketball coach Steve Lavin speaks during a news conference on Friday, April 8, 2022, in San Diego.

Lavin brings an impressive resume. He went 237-150 in 12 seasons with UCLA and St. John’s, with eight NCAA tournament appearances and two NIT trips. His first team at UCLA reached the Elite 8 and the Bruins went to the Sweet 16 four more times in the next five seasons. He missed the NCAA Tournament only once in seven seasons at Westwood.

At St. John’s, he went to the NCAA twice and the NIT twice. He missed most of the 2011-12 season at St. John’s after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer.

Lavin said there is no magic formula to catch Gonzaga and Saint Mary other than working hard every day.

“The mantra I have is hammer the rock,” he said. “I’m going to have to coach this team differently than my St. John players and differently than my UCLA players.”

Lavin said he wants to give players “a fresh start, kind of a blank canvas because I’m a different coach than the previous coach. I told you today that the best way we can honor Sam Scholl is by taking the baton and moving it forward.”

Lavin said that the first step is to try to be among the top four teams in the WCC.

“Then you have a chance to win big. You study what the competition is doing if you’re in the top four in the league, and then we have to build our own rocket if we’re going to have a mission in space, to the stars.”

McGillis said: “This is not a job for the faint of heart. … There is no ceiling at the University of San Diego and for this basketball program.”

Lavin said he found it difficult to express how grateful he was, “and I don’t want to spoil it.”

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/berniewilson

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