The Arizona Wildcats have reportedly hired Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd to be their new head coach.
Here’s what you need to know about the new man in charge as he takes on his first head coaching job.
Lloyd was Mark Few’s right-hand man for 20 years and had an agreement to be his successor
While Lloyd was officially Few’s assistant, they often looked like co-head coaches on the Gonzaga sideline, with Lloyd managing substitutions and barking out instructions by Few’s side. The two have been together almost every step of the way.
Few was named Gonzaga’s head coach in 1999 and Lloyd joined the staff as an administrative assistant in 2000, then as a full-blown assistant in 2001. He’s been there ever since, helping Few build Gonzaga into the powerhouse it is now.
Here’s how dedicate Lloyd was to Zags: when he was first hired, he was making $1,000 a month with no medical benefits. He could have pursued head coaching jobs but declined to interview when schools came calling after him.
Gonzaga is where he always wanted to be. Before leaving for Arizona, his contract actually called for him to be Few’s successor.
“That’s not something I take lightly,” Lloyd told Sporting News. “If I decide to walk away from that, will I ever get to be the head coach at Gonzaga? I don’t know. Basically, being the head coach at Gonzaga would probably be my dream job. Now, will that happen? I don’t know. Will something else come along? I don’t know. But that’s the way I view it right now.”
Lloyd actually could have joined Gonzaga’s staff before Few was head coach
A Kelso, Washington native Lloyd graduated from Whitman College in 1998 and was offered a job by then-Gonzaga head coach Dan Monson for the 1998-99 season. Lloyd declined so he could play overseas in Australia, then Germany, where he also coached youth teams.
“I loved it,” Lloyd told Sports Illustrated. “I mean, I actually liked it more than playing.”
Monson left for Minnesota after leading the Zags to the 1999 Elite Eight and Few was named the successor. Few honored Monson’s offer to Lloyd, and the rest is history.
Lloyd developed a niche in international recruiting and has run with it
Lloyd has made a name for himself as an international recruiter. His first big-time commitment came from Ronny Turiaf of France, who wound up being the 2005 West Coast Conference Player of the Year and a second-round NBA draft pick.
Since then, Lloyd has been the driving force behind the Zags landing and developing countless other foreign prospects like Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania), Kelly Olynyk (Canada), Rui Hachimura (Japan), Killian Tillie (France), Filip Petrusev (Serbia), and most recently Joel Ayayi (France).
It kind of just happened.
“There was never a master plan,” Lloyd told ESPN. “It was just one day at a time. One phone call, one relationship, one recruit. And then once you start having success, more opportunities present themselves.”
Lloyd’s recruiting efforts explain how Gonzaga has become a national power despite some obvious limitations.
“We understood that we needed to start getting higher-level players to be competitive long term at Gonzaga,” Lloyd told Sporting News. “Spokane’s (where Gonzaga is located) great, but it’s not like it’s a hotbed of talent. We had to look elsewhere. So we decided to dedicate time and resources to bringing in international guys.”
Besides, Lloyd loves to travel, so why not use that to his advantage?
“I told him, hey, if you want to make it in this business, you gotta develop a niche, you gotta have something different than somebody else,” Few told ESPN. “There’s so many guys in this business, you have to separate yourself. So he kind of figured out like, ‘Hey, I can figure out how to do this European thing and see if I can establish a network and trust, you know, some real expertise over there.’ And he’s done that.”
So much so that Lloyd once overused a school credit card to make long distance calls.
“Coach Few gave me a calling card and said, ‘Get on the phone, get us some options,’” Lloyd said via Sporting News. ”So a month later, our comptroller’s office called him and said, “Hey, we’ve got $2,000 on this credit card; did someone steal your card, did you lose it?’ No, it was me, making long-distance calls. So he found out it was me, and he told me to keep doing my deal.”
Lloyd said that entails bouncing from country to country for home visits and FIBA Tournaments. He estimated he’s been to 80 or 90 percent of European countries.
“It’s a lot of planes, trains, and automobiles when you’re over there,” he said on the Field of 68 podcast. “You’re not getting to relax in open air cafes and smell people smoking cigarettes and sipping on coffee, you’re not able to do that on those trips. They’re pretty hard hitting for sure.”
It’s worth it, though. The Spokesman-Review’s Gonzaga beat writer Jim Meehan explained on Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo how that approach has benefited the Zags.
“He started bringing high-level talent to Gonzaga when they probably couldn’t get the four-stars, certainly not the five-stars, going head-to-head with the Pac-12 at those times,” Meehan said. “That helped elevate the program in the last 10 years and beyond to where they are now where they can get domestic kids, top-ranked kids.”
Lloyd likes free-flowing offense—and the Zags were amazing at it
Per KenPom, Gonzaga has had the best offense in the country for three years running. They play at one of the fastest paces in the country, similar to the Lute Olson era at Arizona but a big difference from the Sean Miller era, when the Wildcats typically played at a below-average pace and sometimes as slow as 277th in the country.
Gonzaga’s system leans more on concepts than set plays.
“The beauty of our system and you know a lot of it is Coach Few is I think we get more enjoyment out of our players creating a good play on their own from the concepts we play rather than us calling a perfect set,” Lloyd said on the Field of 68 podcast. “To me that’s one of the biggest things that when I watch teams play that there’s this control factor that a lot of American coaches want on the game that sometimes I think in the end it almost ends up inhibiting their team and their players aren’t able to make adjustments … make reads to free flow and to play with this conceptual understanding.
“And I know I mean that’s what we really try to hammer on is just how to play not run plays. We spend a bunch of time with it … it takes a lot, and yeah you are prone to make mistakes but I think what it also does is it opens up an element of creativity that makes it fun to play in and hard to play against.”
Lloyd’s son is a freshman guard at GCU—and apparently a better player than Tommy was
Lloyd’s son Liam is a 6-foot-5 freshman guard at Phoenix’s Grand Canyon University. He is the oldest of Lloyd’s three children. Lloyd and his wife Chanelle also have two daughters, Sophia Marie (2004) and Maria Alexis (2007).
Tommy played collegiately at Walla Walla CC, Colorado State-Pueblo and Whitman College. And although he still holds Walla Walla’s record for most points in a game—52—and earned the nickname Tommy Gun because of his 3-point shooting, he doesn’t think too highly of himself as a player.
“Catch and shoot, no take off the dribble, limited defensively. I think that pretty much sums it up,” Lloyd said on the Field of 68 podcast. “So I made sure my son could move his feet a little bit and at least dribble the ball because those are two things that basically handicapped me as a player and pushed me into this coaching deal probably a lot earlier than I had wished for when I was younger, but maybe it was the exact thing I needed.”
Lloyd isn’t the first person to take the Arizona head coaching job without any prior college head coaching experience
Fred Snowden accepted the Arizona head coaching position in 1972 after five seasons as an assistant coach at Michigan. He became the first Black head coach at a major university and had a successful run in Tucson, compiling a 167–108 record that included two NCAA Tournament appearances and the program’s first-ever Elite Eight in 1976.
Lloyd is the youngest head coach in the Pac-12
The 46-year-old barely takes that mantle from Stanford’s Jerod Haase, who turned 47 on April 1. Lloyd turns 47 on Dec. 21.
The youngster (relatively speaking, of course) is taking on the tall task of restoring a prestigious Arizona program that has had only won two NCAA Tournament games since 2015, could be facing major sanctions, and saw several players enter the transfer portal/declare for the NBA Draft.
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