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Tommy Lloyd says Arizona only job he would have left Gonzaga for during emotional press conference

UPDATED: Thu., April 15, 2021

Arizona basketball coach Tommy Lloyd, left, and athletic director Dave Heeke pose during Lloyd’s introductory news conference Thursday in Tucson, Arizona.  (Courtesy of Arizona athletics)
Arizona basketball coach Tommy Lloyd, left, and athletic director Dave Heeke pose during Lloyd’s introductory news conference Thursday in Tucson, Arizona. (Courtesy of Arizona athletics)

New Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd warned in his first sentence that he might get a little emotional. He kept his word less than a minute into his opening remarks at Thursday’s news conference in Tucson.

Lloyd explained that he loved his 20-plus years on Gonzaga’s coaching staff and he had it in writing that he was the next head coach if Mark Few decided to move on.

“Life was good,” Lloyd said. “I never really got into playing the job-hunting game or where do I want to coach, at least publicly. But in my mind and my heart I knew, and you’re going to hear it over and over again: This is the only place I would ever leave Gonzaga to come to be the head coach at Arizona.”

It wasn’t the only time there was a catch in Lloyd’s voice during a 45-minute news conference inside the McKale Center. Few was the first of many people Lloyd thanked for his evolution as a coach, a list that included Zags legend John Stockton, Gonzaga’s administration and his family seated nearby.

“I literally showed up at his doorstep, he had no idea who I was,” Lloyd said of Few. “I was really kind of antsy and wanted to get going in this profession because I thought I could do it, probably a little overzealous. I just remember he told me one time, ‘Relax, I got you. You remind me a lot of myself.’ I never forgot that.

“I want to thank him for giving me an opportunity to work at Gonzaga and preparing me for this opportunity. The way he treated me and the freedom he gave me prepared me to be a head coach.”

Lloyd worked his way up on Few’s staff, developing a well-earned reputation for his recruiting prowess, game planning and knowledge of Xs and Os. Lloyd landed the Arizona job on Wednesday and he was introduced to the program’s passionate fan base Thursday.

It’s Lloyd’s first head coaching assignment and the 46-year-old is fully aware of the program’s standing as one of the top destinations in the West. He said Arizona and Duke were the two programs Gonzaga tried to emulate under Few.

When Lloyd discussed the Arizona position with Few, it became apparent how far Gonzaga has come in the past two decades.

“When we first talked, we were in the weight room at Gonzaga,” Lloyd said. “He said, ‘Are you kidding me? Who would have thought five years ago we’d play in two championship games and Arizona would want Gonzaga’s assistant coach to be their head coach.’

“He told me, ‘If you can get that job, you have to take it.’ Trust me, he’s never told me that before. (Athletic director) Mike Roth, I was also nervous talking to him, and he had told me, ‘Not only is it the right thing for you to do, we’re going to celebrate it at Gonzaga.’ ”

Lloyd didn’t sound too enthused about next season’s Gonzaga-Arizona game scheduled for the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“Obviously, that would be a really emotional deal,” Lloyd said. “That place has a special, special place in my heart and I’m going to be pulling for them and rooting for them, second only to Arizona. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Lloyd spent his first official day on the job visiting with current players and on a Zoom call with former Wildcats, many of whom were lobbying publicly for the next coach to have connections to the program.

“I don’t have to be the guy they wanted for this job, I’m OK with that,” Lloyd said. “They should be pushing their teammates, and if they were doing anything other than that I’d probably question them.

“But moving forward, I can’t wait to wrap my arms around them and ask them to help me on this journey and do anything I can to move this program forward.”

Lloyd said his assistant coaching staff will “have some Arizona flavor,” which could help be a bridge to former Wildcats players. Possibilities include Jack Murphy, Arizona’s associate head coach the last two years, and/or Jason Terry, who just completed his first year on Arizona’s staff after a 19-year NBA career.

Arizona likely faces sanctions from the NCAA, stemming from the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball. It’s unclear when those sanctions will come down or how severe they will be with the Wildcats in line behind a few other schools going through the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP).

“For me to have the opportunity to be the head coach at Arizona, it probably wasn’t going to be a perfect situation,” Lloyd said. “But I don’t think you guys are every going to hear me complain about NCAA sanctions or anything like that. I know what I’m walking into and I know my job is to lead the program forward.”

Lloyd said his goal is to “get this program back to where we’re raising another national championship banner in McKale. That’s my dream. I’m going to give everything I got. I’m not going to be perfect, but I know I’m in the right place today and I know we made the right decision as a family.”

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