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A deal many coaches would have made cost Floyd his career

The legendary character of Faust first appeared as a part of German folklore in the late 1500's, and over the centuries it has recurred frequently throughout literature, art, music and cinema. He is believed to be the first figure who made a deal with the devil.

Faust was motivated by a greedy desire for short-term gain, but in the end he paid the ultimate price. In modern-day terms, this kind of moral compromise is commonly referred to as a "Faustian bargain".

Tim Floyd, who suddenly resigned as USC's coach on Tuesday, had his Faustian moment in the summer of 2006, when a southern California resident named Rodney Guillory called and asked, "How would you like to have the top two high school players in America come to USC?" The players Guillory was referring to were O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker, two powerfully built small forwards who grew up together in West Virginia and were playing for the same high school in Ohio.

Guillory called himself a sports promoter, but Floyd knew exactly who he was. In 2000, Guillory was working as a runner for an agent, and he provided illicit benefits (including plane tickets) to USC's Jeff Trepagnier and Fresno State's Tito Maddox. The discovery of those gifts led to brief suspensions of both players during the 2000-01 season (Trepagnier was later cleared of all charges). Guillory, in other words, is a professional leech, and in Mayo and Walker, he had attached himself to some prime, Grade A flesh.

Despite this past, Floyd told Guillory he would love to have Mayo and Walker play for USC. So Guillory came to his office and got Mayo on speaker phone. Mayo told Floyd he wanted to come to USC, but when Floyd asked for his cell phone number Mayo declined to give it to him. Despite that red flag, Floyd still wanted Mayo to come to USC. (Mayo and Guillory were unable to fulfill their promise to bring Walker along as well; he spent two years at Kansas State before bolting for the NBA.)

It has taken three years for this drama to play itself out, but on Tuesday it reached its predictable conclusion when Floyd not-so-voluntarily terminated his four-year tenure at USC, claiming he no longer had the required enthusiasm for his job. But the real impetus for Floyd's resignation is an ongoing NCAA investigation that is digging into allegations that Guillory provided Mayo with improper benefits that were given to Guillory by NBA agent Bill Duffy. (Mayo originally signed with Duffy, but he switched agents after those allegations were made public.)

Guillory's former associate also told NCAA investigators, as well as the FBI and IRS, that he personally witnessed Floyd giving $1,000 in cash to Guillory on a Beverly Hills street corner. Floyd has declined to publicly address that charge because of the NCAA investigation has not concluded.

When the claims against Guillory were first reported by ESPN in an Outside the Lines report in May 2008, nobody, least of all Tim Floyd, could have been surprised. Hearing that Rodney Guillory may have given money to O.J. Mayo money is as shocking as learning that the Bruno-Eminem stunt was staged. Even while he was recruiting Mayo, Floyd knew the NCAA would someday come calling, which is why he kept a detailed documentation of all of his contacts with Mayo's camp.

To be fair, the allegations against Guillory are just that -- allegations. Both he and Floyd are entitled to the presumption of innocence until the NCAA wraps up its investigation. And even if the charges against Guillory are borne out, that does not mean that Floyd knew what Guillory was doing. But therein lies the larger problem: Floyd didn't have to know the specifics of what was going on because if there was dirty work to be done, Floyd knew that Guillory could do it for him. Meanwhile, Floyd could ostensibly keep his hands clean.

This is the discomfiting reality of today's college basketball recruiting world, which is driven almost totally by NBA agents. As I've said before, agents are to college basketball what steroids are to baseball: They're cancerous and they're everywhere, and everyone knows what's going on -- yet no one is doing anything about it.

In the old days, if a coach wanted to do an underhanded deal to get a player, he might approach a friend or university booster to get some cash into the right hands. Nowadays, coaches can sit back and maintain plausible deniability while the runner/street agent/flesh peddler makes the transaction. If the boosters of yesteryear were motivated by a desire to see their favorite teams win, the Rodney Guillorys of today simply want their players to be with college coaches who will protect their interests so they can eventually deliver the players to the agents who have been providing the cash all along.

It's a shame Floyd's career is ending like this. He is a likeable guy who can flat-out coach, which is why despite this cloud hanging over him, he was still in demand for prominent job openings this spring. Memphis showed a strong interest after John Calipari left for Kentucky, and Floyd interviewed for the Arizona job on U of A's campus before returning to L.A. and turning it down. (Regarding the Mayo mess, Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood said, "I asked [Floyd] the question. He said there's nothing to that. So end of question." That's some excellent detective work there, Jim.) Meanwhile, the Arizona flirtation eroded Floyd's already strained relationship with USC athletic director Mike Garrett.

Nor did Floyd help his cause by pursuing Renardo Sidney, the mega-talented 6-10 forward at Los Angeles's Fairfax High whose high school career has raised even more red flags than Mayo's. Sidney announced in February that he wanted to play for USC, but after USC decided this spring that it didn't want him anymore, Sidney opted for Mississippi State. (Excuse me, Rick Stansbury. You have the NCAA calling on line two.)

On a certain level, it's hard to blame Floyd for recruiting O.J. Mayo. Almost any coach in the country would have taken the kid, Guillory or no Guillory. When Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon remarked that he would never recruit Mayo, Floyd cracked, "I'd like to schedule a game against Mike Wilbon." Floyd's job was to win or be fired, and if a coach is only going to recruit players who don't have unsavory characters hanging around them, then he is not going to get a lot of really good players.

Nor would it seem fair if USC football coach Pete Carroll emerges unscathed from all of this while Floyd gets shoved out the door. The NCAA's investigation into the Mayo stuff is part of a larger investigation into claims that former USC running back Reggie Bush and his family received upwards of $250,000 in improper benefits while he was at USC. If those allegations hold up, I'd love to hear the logic behind allowing Carroll to keep his job while Floyd had to forfeit his.

Still, recruiting can be an ugly racket, and plausible deniability does not absolve coaches from the consequences of their decisions. Tim Floyd could have turned away Rodney Guillory three summers ago, but instead he made his Faustian bargain. Now, he's paying the price. The devil, it turned out, was in the details.

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