New Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd is ready for the challenges he’ll face as he tries to repair the Wildcats


TUCSON, Arizona – It’s still Arizona to Tommy Lloyd.

The perennial power the new Wildcats coach has taken over is admittedly wounded waiting for the NCAA’s big hammer. In fact the detritus that Sean Miller left behind is the reason Gonzaga‘s superstar assistant is here in the first place.

“I knew for an assistant coach to get this job there has to be a reason,” Lloyd told CBS Sports. “I knew it was part and parcel of me being here.”

The 46-year old being realistic about his place in the universe doesn’t even cover it. Arizona may have even gotten lucky with Lloyd while awaiting potentially crippling penalties from an NCAA investigation that is essentially in its fourth year. That September day in 2017 that the Southern District of New York announced its college basketball arrests, the sport has been stained. 

But not at Gonzaga and that’s another reason Lloyd is here. He remembers recruiting with Gonzaga head coach Mark Few in Orlando, Florida, when the SDNY/FBI news broke 4 ½ ago. 

“We got off the plane and our phones started blowing up,” Lloyd said. “The No. 1 thing I remember feeling is a sense of calmness because I knew I had nothing to hide and I was never going to be drug into whatever was happening.”

There is your answer, then, why Lloyd is here. Gonzaga’s reputation is impeccable, in part, because of Lloyd. He was Few’s No. 1 assistant and right-hand man. That alone assured he was going to get a big-time job at some point. 

That it was Arizona reflects an intersection. A rising, young coaching commodity meets a West Coast blueblood trending downward. Middle ground has never been more interesting. And just to clear it up, it’s not worth arguing whether Lloyd had gotten Arizona if the feds and NCAA hadn’t dropped in. The job wouldn’t have been open. Miller would still be around. 

“It got to a point where we had to do something,” said one school source of Miller’s firing. “It was paralyzing our program.” 

Arizona, Lloyd insists, can be great again. 

“If you can get Arizona, take it,” Lloyd recalls what Few told him.

Assistant Tommy Lloyd helped coach Mark Few take Gonzaga to an elite level.
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“We’d never talked like that before,” Lloyd said. “The next thing he said, ‘It’s amazing who would have thought five years ago that Gonzaga would have played two national championship  games and Arizona would want to hire their assistant coach as a head coach?’ ”

The whirlwind process began only after Gonzaga’s April 6 loss to Baylor in the NCAA Tournament final. Eight days later, Lloyd became Arizona’s only third full-time head coach since 1983. He went from Gonzaga’s coach-in-waiting to the Wildcats’ salvation-in-waiting.

Despite the job going to an assistant coach, AD Dave Heeke said there was plenty of interest in the job. CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander reported Lloyd beat out Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire and Georgia Tech  coach Josh Pastner – both Arizona alums. Current Arizona assistant Jason Terry and Lakers assistant Miles Simon were also on the list. 

Lucky? With Lloyd in and Miller out, the switch could be a mitigating factor for the NCAA. (The school self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2020-21 season.) Lloyd is not just a replacement, he comes from is perceived as one of the most virtuous programs in Division I. 

“We took pride in that,” Lloyd said.

“Embrace’ [the NCAA situation] is probably a strange word to use,” he added. “I don’t need to know everything. What’s going to happen is going to happen. My job is to help them move forward … I’ve haven’t gotten emotionally caught in it.” 

For now, Lloyd is capitalizing on a resume that seems 94 feet long. His career famously took off when Few told his young assistant he had to find a way to differentiate himself to succeed.

That was two decades ago. Lloyd went in feet first on international recruiting. His first big get was Mario Kasun, a Croatian big man. Kasun signed but became entangled in NCAA eligibility issues and never played for Gonzaga.

The open scholarship led Lloyd landing French recruit Ronny Turiaf, still one of the most beloved Zags ever. That preceded a line of international talent flowing to Gonzaga, helping shape it as a college basketball superpower. But back then there was still the recruiting challenge of being more than 300 miles from a major metro area.

Funny how serendipity works. When Turiaf took his NBA physical with the Lakers in 2005 it was discovered he had an enlarged aortic root in his heart. After the operation Lloyd said there was “some leakage”.

“Bobby had to go in and to reopen him up and fix it,” Lloyd said.

“Bobby” is the current Arizona president Robert C. Robbins, a noted cardiologist. Robbins has been actively involved in the process that brought both Lloyd and football coach Jedd Fisch to Arizona. 

Robbins oversaw the process that made Arizona the only Power Five school with football and basketball coaches currently in their first seasons as head coaches. 

“He is involved which I don’t think is a bad thing,” Lloyd said. “He’s a heart surgeon so he’s smart. He’s got a vision of what he wants this place to be. I appreciate him and Dave giving me a chance. They had to think outside the box on that one. They didn’t take the easy, traditional sitting head coach.

“I remember telling them, ‘If [I get the job], you’ll probably have to justify this. Dr. Robbins said, ‘Why? You’re one of the best coaches in the country. I don’t care if you’re an assistant or not.’ ”

The above facts are asterisks on the way to a rebuild. Arizona just wants to be relevant again. It needs to be more like Gonzaga – on several levels. 

“I want ours to be unselfish play, high-character guys,” Lloyd said. “I want to eliminate as much dysfunction as I can from the formulas. You always have this sliding scale of talent vs dysfunction. 

“If we do things the right way, plenty of guys will get NBA opportunities at Arizona.”

And Arizona will course correct. If the NCAA has taught us anything in applying major penalties lately, in almost every case a program recovers fairly quickly. 

“The best way to judge a job is its fan base,” Lloyd said. “I knew the fan base was a monster here. I felt it in McHale. I’ve seen it in NCAA Tournaments. I’ve seen it in Maui [at the Maui Invitational].

“For me to leave a fan base that is developing into a monster that travels well, it was like if I have an opportunity to be a head coach at Arizona, I’m doing it. I haven’t had any regrets.”

Any consternation over the transition has been eased. Lloyd retained Terry and Jack Murphy as assistants. There has been a commitment from in-state, four-star prospect Dylan Anderson. Freshman point guard Kerr Kriisa took his name out of the transfer portal when Lloyd arrived. Gonzaga big man Oumar Ballo has transferred in. 

Baylor coach Scott Drew, though, did snatch James Akinjo, Arizona’s leading scorer, from the transfer portal.  

As if Lloyd needed any more aggravation from the Bears.

“We got our ass kicked,” Lloyd said of the championship game loss. “Part of the reason we didn’t play great was them. You tip your hat, losing is part of this deal.”

Lloyd will continue to be an international presence. The globe is his second home. Two years ago Lloyd took his family – three kids and wife Chanelle – on a trip “around the world” in 30 days. 

“Dubai, Indonesia, Australia, Fiji, home,” Lloyd said. “Took a month. I want my kids to travel, see the world.”

All of it tends to put things in perspective. During a trip to Hawaii, Lloyd was peering out the window of his condo at the ocean. He noticed a swimmer floundering and then rescued by lifeguards. A couple of hours later Lloyd found out it was a father who died of a heart attack while swimming with his children.

Lloyd eventually found one of the lifeguards and gave him $100.

“I told him to take his family out to dinner. He was pretty shook,” Lloyd said.

Less than two hours later, someone had stuck an umbrella in the sand, a prime piece of real estate on the Maui beach where that family had been. 

“I said, ‘Wow, life goes on,’ ” Lloyd said.





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