The Arizona Wildcats have tabbed longtime Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd as their new head coach. Unless you’re an ardent follower of the sport, his name might not ring a bell. He’s been with the Zags for 20 seasons but never a college head coach.
So...who is Tommy Lloyd? We asked Peter Woodburn from SlipperStillFits.com, our sister site, for some more insight on him.
Here’s the Q&A.
Ryan Kelapire: How surprising is it that Tommy Lloyd would leave for Arizona?
Peter Woodburn: For the longest time, it seemed like Tommy Lloyd would never leave. He was the head coach-in-waiting for when Mark Few retired, but this is really the first time he has ever been so concretely linked to a school. Lloyd is only 46-years-old, so he still is a young-ish first-time coach, but Mark Few is also only 58. If Lloyd waited for Mark Few to retire, he very well might have been nearing his 60s before he ever assumed the Gonzaga mantle. Even with the current state of the program, Arizona is still a top-tier coaching position nationally and one of the best on the west coast. Honestly, the more surprising thing is that Lloyd stuck around Gonzaga for so long.
RK: How have Gonzaga fans reacted to Lloyd’s departure?
PW: There are varying levels of grief, as you would expect from losing someone who has been with the program for the past 20 years. That said, I think most people are happy for him. It is a great opportunity and also another feather in the cap of Gonzaga. Who would’ve thought 20 years ago that a Zag assistant coaching position could be the stepping stone for something as big as the Arizona job? It is really cool, honestly.
RK: Other than international recruiting, what was Lloyd most known for at Gonzaga?
PW: Standing in the corner! Other than that, without the very obvious answer of international recruiting, it might be player development, which sort of combines with the recruiting prowess. He has a knack for identifying what the team needs in a player, finding that player, and then coaxing the best out of them. He is intense, but in a nice and good way, and by all accounts most Gonzaga players have only said positive things about working with him.
RK: Should Arizona fans be worried that Lloyd has never been a head coach before or is he prepared for the job?
PW: That is always the big worry when anyone gets a promotion, isn’t it? I think it is natural to have that worry, it by no means is unjustified. I also think Lloyd is coming from an environment that is suited pretty well for him to succeed. He is a strong recruiter and he comes from a basketball program that is the primary (only) draw for major sports in the city during the winter. Minus that elusive national championship, I’d say he has handled the pressure pretty well.
And here is the rub put simply: If Tommy Lloyd was a crappy coach, he wouldn’t have been at Gonzaga, one of the best (if not the best currently) program on the west coast, for 20 years. He would’ve been shown the door. I don’t think you are going to have a Mike Hopkins-like situation at all.
RK: What will Lloyd’s biggest challenges be as a head coach?
PW: Most of us can agree that Sean Miller didn’t exactly clean up after his stay at Arizona, right? I think that’ll be the biggest challenge: How does he navigate the intense expectations of the Arizona faithful to win if the NCAA comes down and makes that job more difficult?
RK: What should Arizona fans expect to see from a Tommy Lloyd-coached team? (We know Gonzaga is known for its high-octane offense.)
PW: I honestly have no idea really how to answer the X’s and O’s truthfully without pulling things out of thin air because we have never seen a Tommy Lloyd-coached team before! That said, I think one big thing might be a different style of player coming in. Lloyd’s best recruiting finds are all projects, and by all accounts from former players, he is excellent at player development and someone the players love to work with. That isn’t to say he isn’t going to bring in stellar recruits. It is Arizona basketball after all.
RK: Are there any players that might follow Lloyd to Arizona?
PW: Pavel Zakharov and Oumar Ballo have already entered the transfer portal, and I could very well see Ballo following in Lloyd’s footsteps. He arrived at Gonzaga with the nickname of Baby Shaq, and is a player with a LOT of promise, but still needs another year of development before he is rampaging in college hoops. Martynas Arlauskas, a 6’7 winger from Lithuania who saw minimal time in two seasons, could also follow, but he has yet to announce he is transferring.
RK: What should Arizona fans know about Tommy Lloyd as a person?
PW: He is just an all-around great guy. Prime example: In Gonzaga’s tournament game against USC, when referee Bert Smith collapsed, that is Tommy Lloyd you see jumping onto the court and running to his side first. This is the person you are getting. The other thing you are getting is someone who is completely clean, which I’d have to imagine after Miller would feel a bit nice.
RK: How would you grade this hire from Arizona’s standpoint?
PW: Even though this process was uber weird, I feel for the Arizona AD, I really do. It seemed like they were stuck between a rock (demands to hire the big name) and a hard place (demands to hire from within). I think Damon Stoudamire is a good coach, and he is doing a good job at Pacific, but I think people overstate his success there a little bit. I’m sure there are a lot of Arizona fans out there who are not happy with the hiring (looking at you Gilbert Arenas), and that is a bummer, because Tommy Lloyd is one of the best assistant coaches in college hoops, and he is more than ready for this opportunity. I’m super stoked for him and I wish him all the success when he isn’t playing Gonzaga.