I have been starring at a blank white screen for a long time on Monday night, struggling with what I want to write about Lindsay Gottlieb leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers after two seasons to become the head coach of USC women’s basketball.
Lindsay Gottlieb is an unfailingly kind, generous person who has gone out of her way to do things she didn’t have to do for the Cal community. She was a part of basketball memories I’ll cherish the rest of my life.
She’s coaching at USC now.
Logically, I can understand in my brain that her departure from Cal was probably the best for all parties. Logically, I can understand that coaching at USC is a reasonably attractive job.
But she’s coaching at USC now.
It’s not long until you’re going to see footage of her saying fight on while holding up a V hand sign. I don’t say that to torture you, but instead to prepare you for the inevitable.
In spite of it all, I am morbidly curious to see whether or not Coach G can lift USC out of nearly three decades of remarkably consistent mediocrity.
In 1994, Cheryl Miller led USC to a 26-4 record, a Pac-10 title, and made the Elite 8. In the 27 years since, USC is 241-243 in conference play, with 20 seasons that ended with somewhere between 7 and 11 conference wins. In that time USC has made four NCAA tournaments and hasn’t gotten further than the second round.
27 years of being decent but unremarkable. 27 years of being good enough to pull the occasional upset but not good enough to matter nationally. 27 years of just kinda existing without ever really getting noticed by anybody.
USC WBB seems like a program that should be good but isn’t. Five different coaches since Cheryl Miller have tried, and all of them have failed.
Lindsay Gottlieb has something to prove as well. She collected a Pac-12 record of 56-16 over her first four seasons in Berkeley, then regressed to a record of 30-42 over her final four seasons in Berkeley. Frustratingly for Cal fans, the Bears have struggled badly in the two years after her departure, thanks in part to a shallow, inexperienced, and imbalanced roster left behind by transfers and recruiting misses.
The Pac-12 has become the best conference in WBB because over the last 8 years the Pac-12 kept adding great head coaches on top of the programs that were already strong. UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, and Arizona all have improved markedly thanks to inspired head coaching choices. It’s not a coincidence that the rise of those programs coincided with Cal’s relative struggles in the second half of Lindsay Gottlieb’s eight years at Cal. Those coaches are all still in the conference. Winning at USC will be far from easy.
I don’t quite hold the same intense dislike for USC WBB as I do towards other USC sports, or USC as an institution. It’s hard to hate a program that has been so relentlessly bland and uninteresting for the bulk of my lifetime. If Coach Gottlieb starts beating ASU or Oregon or Stanford or UCLA, I’ll probably cackle and enjoy it, and I’ll be happy for a good person on a human level.
But I’m still a fan, and when they meet on the court I hope my Bears show no mercy.