The Gonzaga-Arizona game next season in Spokane just got a whole lot more interesting.
Longtime Bulldogs assistant coach Tommy Lloyd, a key figure in the program’s rise on the national stage, was hired as Arizona’s head coach on Wednesday. He agreed to a five-year contract, pending approval of the school’s Board of Regents.
“I am extremely grateful to President (Robert) Robbins and (athletic director) Dave Heeke for the incredible opportunity to lead one of the country’s most storied programs,” Lloyd said in an Arizona release.
Lloyd was contractually designated as Gonzaga’s head coach in waiting if Mark Few decided to leave the position. Instead, Lloyd takes over one of the most successful programs in the West over the last 35 years.
“Outside of Mark, there’s nobody that’s been more important to our success over all these years than Tommy Lloyd,” Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said. “I don’t think that’s disputable.
“They’ve hit a home run. Tommy will be successful, I have no doubt. That’s why we committed to him here. Arizona is getting a great coach and more importantly, they’re getting a really special individual and family.”
Arizona ranks as one of the top jobs nationally in terms of tradition, facilities, resources and fan support, but the position won’t be without challenges for Lloyd.
Lloyd was considered a leading candidate after the Wildcats dismissed head coach Sean Miller on April 7. He was reportedly one of at least five to interview. The others – Pacific head coach Damon Stoudamire, Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Miles Simon, Arizona assistant coach Jason Terry and Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner – all have connections to the Wildcats as players and assistant coaches.
The Wildcats also reached out to Arkansas coach Eric Musselman, who quickly received a new five-year contract from the Razorbacks worth $4 million annually, and apparently BYU coach Mark Pope. Pastner is reportedly in talks with Georgia Tech for a contract extension.
Several former Arizona players publicly backed Stoudamire or lobbied for the next coach to have ties to the program, so Lloyd might have to mend some fences early on. New Wildcats football coach Jedd Fisch, whose background was mostly on NFL staffs, faced similar challenges when he was hired in December.
The Wildcats were caught up in the 2017 FBI investigation into college basketball corruption. The NCAA charged the program with five Level I violations and Arizona will likely face sanctions. Miller took the Wildcats to three Elite Eights in his 12 years, but they haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2017.
“While there are certainly potential obstacles ahead for our program,” Lloyd said, “I embrace the challenge as we will build on the foundation in place to compete for Pac-12 and national championships.
“I know how much Arizona basketball means to the institution, its fans, its community and the state, and I cannot wait to get started. That works begin now. My family and I are excited to settle in Tucson and begin a new chapter.”
Lloyd will be in line for a sizable raise. He made just under $1 million in total compensation for the 2018-19 season, according to GU tax filings with the Internal Revenue Service. Miller made $2.9 million last season and the next coach is expected to be in the same salary range.
“In our 20 years working together, Tommy has proven that he is one of the game’s elite coaches and highest-character people,” Few said in the Arizona release. “This is an incredible opportunity for him to lead an incredibly storied program and was a decision I know he carefully considered after receiving head coaching interest from many other schools over the years. Our university and the Spokane community will miss Tommy and his family dearly. I wish him the best and have no doubt he will lead Arizona to great success.”
Lloyd, 46, carved out a reputation as one of the nation’s top assistant coaches and a premier recruiter internationally in 20 seasons as a GU assistant, but his resume was complete in multiple areas.
“He’s earned it. He’s more than ready (to be a head coach),” said former Gonzaga great Adam Morrison, an analyst on Gonzaga radio broadcasts. “Tommy is going to be fine there. And the culture, based on what Gonzaga has had with Tommy and the whole staff, hopefully he can instill that at Arizona and have a successful program.
“Everybody envisions him as just a European recruiter, but he was Xs and Os and I guess the bridge between certain players and Few to get guys to understand what Few’s message was and how he expected other players to play. Tommy was a man of many hats.”
The Zags and Wildcats were scheduled to meet Dec. 5 in Spokane, but the game was pushed back to next season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lloyd will be patrolling the visitor’s sideline, which might cause longtime Zags fans to do a double take.
“Whether it’s Mark or Tommy or (women’s coach) Lisa (Fortier), that’s the price of success, it just is,” Roth said. “When you’re not successful, people don’t come after your coaches or assistant coaches.”
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