The Arizona Wildcats hired longtime Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd as their new head coach on Wednesday. Lloyd comes to Tucson after two decades in Spokane, where he helped Mark Few build the Bulldog program into a national powerhouse.
Our staff graded the hire. You can submit yours in the poll at the bottom of this article.
Ezra Amacher: B+
When it became abundantly clear last week that Arizona was preparing to hand Sean Miller his pink slip, the first name I saw trending to be his replacement was Tommy Lloyd. My first reaction was that it’d be quite a coup for Arizona to steal one of the top assistants in college basketball away from Gonzaga, a school where he was written in to be Mark Few’s successor.
Lloyd had life set for him in Spokane, but deep down he probably always wanted to step outside Few’s shadow and see what he could do as the lead guy somewhere. The Arizona job opening was a once-in-a-career opportunity for this west coast lifer and he took it.
The Arizona administration’s handling of the Miller firing and Lloyd hiring went about as poorly as imaginable but by Wednesday evening Arizona had its guy. In five months, yet alone five years, no one will care about how the transition went down. They’ll only be concerned with whether Lloyd can bring elite talent to Tucson and turn that talent into a winning program.
There’s plenty of reason to believe Lloyd is up for the challenge. His recruiting level is second to none, he is considered an astute basketball mind, and he has deep relationships across the world. Lloyd’s international pedigree should help him retain some of the current roster. He and his staff will work the transfer portal hard to ensure next season’s roster is competitive.
Lloyd will also restore credibility to the Arizona basketball brand. Miller had A Players’ Program under a foul odor ever since the 2017 FBI corruption investigation broke. Arizona became a school easy to hate. Lloyd, on the other hand, is about as likable as coaches come. There will be a lot of people in Tucson and elsewhere rooting for him and the Wildcats to succeed.
Ronnie Stoffle: C+
I’ll preface any grading from here on out with, “I thought Kevin Sumlin was an A+ hire.” The tough part to get past with this hire is the timing of firing Sean Miller. It didn’t make any sense to do it after the unexpected success the team found last season. But what’s done is done.
Grading on the short-term it feels like a D but longer term I believe it has the potential to be B+ or so. The short-term pessimism comes from the idea that the 2021-22 squad is in danger of losing a lot more than just KJ Simpson, Jemarl Baker Jr., Terrell Brown and Ira Lee.
Kerr Kriisa is already reportedly exploring other options. I don’t want to speculate because those possibilities are endless but it feels like the once-promising roster could easily fall apart at its core.
With that said, the transfer portal is flush with players and talent. Arizona is a still a desirable landing spot for plenty of talented high school and college players. We just have to trust that Lloyd will continue to be strong on the recruiting trail and that players buy into the tradition of Arizona basketball.
To sum it up, it could have been a lot worse. I guess I’ll take it.
Brian J. Pedersen: B+
I think Arizona Desert Swarm alumnus David Potts described it best on Twitter:
From the moment Sean Miller was fired, if not beforehand, Tommy Lloyd was the main choice. Why else would Arizona wait more than five weeks after the season ended to make a change if not because its target wasn’t yet available? And yet it still took a week to get done, not because of contract negotiations but because of pressure from boosters to hire an alum as well as getting lured into helping approve an upgrade to the Muss Buss.
Is there risk in going with a first-time coach? Sure. But there’s always risk in every hire, no matter how accomplished or experienced that coach may be. Since Arizona wasn’t going to get someone “better” than Miller, in terms of stature within the college game, going with someone who has the potential to be more successful than Miller was in his 12 years is the way to go.
But still, why all the extra, unnecessary steps to reach the same conclusion that could have been reached almost a week ago?
Christian Mortensen: B
I’m going with a solid B for Robbins and Heeke this time around.
Even though I personally wouldn’t have minded if Arizona went with an alum, getting the number two guy from one of the best programs on the west coast, who also has major recruiting connections in Europe (!), can’t be looked at as a bad thing. Even if the timing of the whole hiring process was weird.
While “Tucson Tommy” will obviously be judged on how he does long-term, his first job is to now try and convince players from last year’s team like Azuolas Tubelis, Jordan Brown, James Akinjo, Bennedict Mathurin and Kerr Krissa to stick around.
If he can do that, along with bringing in a couple of solid guys through the transfer portal, this hire could be an instant success.
Adam Green: B+
Grading the hire of Tommy Lloyd has to be done within the context of the search, right? Because with that, it’s hard not to be — if not impressed — at least satisfied.
Arizona waiting as long as it did to fire Sean Miller indicated that they had their sights set on someone who was not available to them until then, because if they truly were not sure of who they wanted then all they did was waste time in starting their search.
With that in mind, along with the possible sanctions yet to come, Lloyd is a pretty good get. He appears ready to take over as a head coach, and while we’d like to think Arizona is better than a first-timer, based on the rumored candidates that is clearly not the case. Therefore, snagging arguably the best assistant in the game, one who was contractually set to take over for the preeminent program out West, is not too shabby.
None of this is to say Lloyd will succeed, though that would have been the case for any coach Arizona hired. The first step will be retaining the bulk of a promising roster. Doing so would be the first win of his tenure and bring promise that more are on the way. Regardless, unlike with Jedd Fisch in football there will be no honeymoon period here.
There are many who think Arizona should not have fired Miller, and that’s fine. But whether you felt like it was time to move on or not, this should not be much of a rebuild. All things considered, Lloyd seems ready to take on the challenge.
Ryan Kelapire: B
My only concern, which is a big one, is that Lloyd has never been a college head coach before. They always say you don’t know what that seat is like until you’re actually in it. There are a lot more responsibilities that come with it, like dealing with criticism from fans and the media. Lloyd has never done that before and things won’t sail as smoothly at Arizona as they do at Gonzaga. He’s already acknowledged the “potential obstacles ahead.”
That said, he spent 20 years working in one of the best programs in the country and under one of the best head coaches. If there is anyone ready to make that leap, it’s him.
Lloyd’s résumé as a recruiter is impressive. He has a long track record of recruiting internationally and we’ve already seen how valuable that can be at Arizona with guys like Lauri Markkanen, Dusan Ristic and Azuolas Tubelis.
And Gonzaga seemed to perfect the recruiting approach that Arizona was trying to emulate in Miller’s final years—recruit players who are willing to develop while sprinkling in one-and-dones like Jalen Suggs and Zach Collins. That way you have star power and a core group of returners every year. Sustained dominance.
I also love the idea that Arizona could play an uptempo brand of basketball again. Not only did Gonzaga have the No. 1 offense in the country for the last three years, it played at one of the fastest paces in the country.
How much did Lloyd have to do with that? I guess we’ll find out. Hiring coaches is far from a perfect science, and maybe in a few years we’ll wonder how the administration believed a lifetime assistant coach was ready for a job of this magnitude. But I like what I’ve heard about Lloyd, and Arizona fans—and former players—need to give him a chance.
Kim Doss: B
I have made no secret that I was ready to move on from Sean Miller years ago. No, it was not just because of the scandal. My dissatisfaction goes back longer than that.
I saw nothing in the trajectory of the program that told me it was ever headed back to the level of the best years of Lute Olson. I have always said that I could deal with early-round losses as long as they intermingled with regular Final Four runs.
Isn’t that what Arizona men’s basketball had come to mean? Shouldn’t the fans demand that level of achievement considering how much the coach was being paid? Is winning a lot against a weak non-conference and in what had been a weak conference prior to this season enough? It obviously was for a lot of people, but it wasn’t for me.
I didn’t understand exactly why the decision was made when it was. I think the University waited too long for it to work as damage control, but at least it was finally made.
And, yes, I’m happy with the decision that Dave Heeke and Robert Robbins made this time around. Unlike my initial feelings about Jedd Fisch, I don’t have concerns about the process this time around. Are we really complaining that it took a week—a week, folks—to hire someone to run the highest-profile program in the department? That they actually interviewed a few people, especially when there was so much demand for an alumnus to be hired? Come on, now.
Is it a slam-dunk A+ hire? No, but I think those are rare. A successful sitting head coach at a major program is not usually going to jump ship. Cedric Dempsey convincing Lute to leave Iowa just a few years removed from Final Four run is something few athletic directors can replicate. It was a rarity back then, too.
I was not opposed to hiring an alumnus as long as it was the right one. If Damon Stoudamire had been the hire, I would be almost as pleased with that decision.
Tommy Lloyd has the experience of helping build a program from good to great. Like Adia Barnes, he knows what it means to have to think outside the box until you can get the top players in the U.S. to commit to you. Unlike Barnes, he also has a premade brand to leverage to get those players, even if it’s been damaged over the last few years.
I was done with the endless “next year we’ll go to the Final Four” and “but what about that great class we have coming in” that had been the tired Arizona refrain every year. With change comes new possibilities. I am ready to see what the new guy can do.
How would you grade Arizona’s hiring of Tommy Lloyd?
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