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Famed college basketball coach Rick Majerus once said he saw the University of San Diego as an ideal place to coach.
The jolly and rotund former Utah coach wouldn’t feel as much pressure at a West Coast Conference school as he felt at Utah or would have felt at USC (if hadn’t backed out on the job two years ago), but USD basketball fans certainly would have expected more than one NCAA tournament trip in 13 years had he coached the Toreros.
That’s why it’s puzzling that USD athletic director Ky Snyder was criticized for his vision of USD men’s basketball as Gonzaga South. He must be the first AD in college sports history ripped for stating he believes his school’s men’s basketball program should contend for conference titles and NCAA tournament bids.
That’s what played out here the past three weeks when Snyder fired Brad Holland on March 8 and replaced him with Gonzaga assistant Bill Grier on March 26.
Maybe it was because Holland was such a smart coach at X’s and O’s and he graduated his players. Or maybe it was because the San Diego media and sports fans overlook USD without expecting much from the little school up on the hill at Alcala Park.
But if you look at USD’s athletic program, the bar was raised by the Toreros’ success in other sports before Snyder’s vision of Gonzaga South. USD’s NCAA Division I baseball, women’s volleyball and women’s basketball are winning and doing it with high profile San Diego recruits.
The baseball team is ranked No. 20 in the nation and features two left-handed pitchers, Brian Matusz and Josh Romanski, who are capable of All-American honors and carrying the Toreros to the College World Series.
Freshman closer A.J. Griffin was the CIF San Diego Section Player of the Year last season at Grossmont High, and Mission Bay High outfielder Sequoyah Stonecipher, an Aflac All-American, is one of the prized recruits in the next year’s class.
The women’s volleyball team was ranked in the top 25 throughout the season and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 for the second time in three years before losing to eventual national champion Nebraska. Kristen Carlson was a third-team All-American and the WCC Player of the Year.
Rancho Buena Vista High alumnus Andrea Csaczi was named to the WCC All-Freshman team.
The women’s basketball team advanced to the post-season for only the third time in program history and the first time since 2000 with a trip to the Women’s NIT. The Toreros did it with second-year coach Cindy Fisher, whom Snyder hired to replace long-time coach Kathy Marpe.
Junior point guard Amanda Rego, a Mission Bay High alumnus, was the Co-Player of the Year in the WCC, the first-time a USD women’s basketball player has earned the honor.
USD football isn’t a Division I-A program, but the Toreros have won back-to-back Division I-AA Mid-Major national titles with an NFL prospect at quarterback, Josh Johnson.
I asked retired Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote, who knows WCC basketball as a Gonzaga fan while living in Spokane, Wash., about Holland’s dismissal.
“I like Brad Holland, and Brad is a very good coach,” Heathcote said. “Anytime an AD wants his program to move up the ladder, it’s almost unfair a coach like Brad gets fired. But sometimes it’s time for a change, and that’s the AD’s call.”
I also asked Grier about replacing Holland, whose 2003 team was the last WCC team to beat Gonzaga in the WCC tournament and earn an NCAA tournament trip.
“You hate to see it our profession, but it’s reality,” said Grier, who has turned down other opportunities to be a head coach before accepting the USD job. “But I see so many positive things here, and I’m excited about it.”
Snyder isn’t the only one who has raised the bar at USD.
— TOM SHANAHAN