Bob Boyd is the basketball coach at the University of Southern California, and unusual things happen to him. They always have. He was a student at Muir Junior College a long time ago, about ready to transfer to Stanford, when his mother's house burned down and he needed a place to live. The closest quarters available were at a fraternity house at nearby USC, so he became a star pivotman there. He is remembered fondly in JC coaching ranks not only as a teacher of tough defense, but also as the guy who got called with a technical by a referee who had been best man at his wedding. He was doing beautifully as head coach at Seattle University until the FBI discovered two of his best players had knowingly failed to report a bribe attempt. They were kicked out of school, and Boyd resigned to sell basketball shoes.
Some four years ago Boyd was driving through the California desert, thinking of nothing more important than soles and shoelaces, when he heard an announcement on the radio that the USC coaching job was open. By coincidence he happened to be driving by the radio station that had given the news, so he parked his car, walked in on the startled disk jockey, introduced himself and said he was going to apply for the job and, what's more, he was going to get it. Which is how the folks in Yucca Valley, Calif. heard a big sports exclusive.
The new coach's arrival coincided with the start of Lew Alcindor's varsity eligibility at rival UCLA, and more unusual things happened. Boyd tried to beat UCLA using a man-to-man defense, and Alcindor scored 56 points. The third time the teams met, Boyd tried a stall that came within a hairbreadth of working. He was rewarded for this bit of ingenuity by being spat upon and cursed. But Bob Boyd is a stubborn one. He used strict ball control again last season, and finally the ploy worked, right in UCLA's own arena, as USC wrecked the Bruins' win streak at 41.
"I knew that overpowering team across town was retarding my program," said Boyd. "Rather than accept it, roll over and play dead for three years, it activated me. And I kept in mind that I had better be ready when Lew was gone."
Well, Alcindor is gone, and USC does seem ready. It took on sixth-ranked Colorado and well-rated Vanderbilt last weekend in the Los Angeles Sports Arena and thrashed them both. It used to be that the only way to get attendance above 1,000 at a Trojan home game was to shanghai people off the street. That will change rapidly. More than 5,000 fans showed up Friday to see Colorado humbled 88-74. The crowd would have been larger Saturday when Vandy succumbed 108-89, but the game was on local TV. Season ticket sales have doubled over last season.
"My goals are to create enough enthusiasm and interest," says Boyd, "to fill the Sports Arena [it holds 15,509] and to win an NCAA basketball championship, which USC has never done."
Getting ready for his raid on crowds and titles, Boyd founded the USC Basketball Boosters, which now has 335 members who annually kick in at least $10 apiece, and hired two assistants who complement him nicely. Bob Wilhelm, 38, is "the detail man," handling the boosters, trips and scheduling. Wilhelm is also a "disciplinarian with an excellent knowledge of the game." And for recruiting, Boyd has a skinny, 27-year-old bachelor, Jim Hefner, who uses the Chinese water torture on hot prospects, telephoning them three or four times a week, sending them telegrams after victories and romancing their mothers.
"Jimmy's the greatest at that," says Boyd. "When he gets on a kid he's relentless—drip, drip, drip. He refuses to believe we won't get him."
Boyd himself gets down in the recruiting trenches, and a good example of what he comes out with is Paul Westphal, a sophomore guard who averaged 32 points a game during his last season in high school. Westphal's older brother was a tine defensive forward at USC but disliked the pre-Boyd basketball program, and Paul was a regular at UCLA Coach John Wooden's summer camp. His father was vehemently anti-USC, and Paul did not bother to answer the first letter Boyd sent him. Then Hefner started the water torture, and Boyd played some half-court basketball with Paul's dad. Goodby, UCLA.
Westphal was joined on last season's freshman team by four other players who were all thisses-and-thats, and they loped through a 19-game schedule without a defeat, each man averaging in double figures and shooting better than 50% from the floor. With them this year is a good senior, Don Crenshaw, and three JC transfers from Arizona who had played for a state-championship high school team in New Jersey.
They all seem extremely fond of Boyd, who believes strongly in discipline mixed with affection. He demands punctuality, attentiveness and a positive attitude, and if he does not get them there is hell to pay. Yet he is constantly immersing himself in his players' problems, putting his arm around their shoulders, giving them friendly cuffs, joshing them. Says an old friend: "Either Bob treats his players like he treats his own sons or he treats his sons like he treats his players."
Boyd's oldest son, Bill, 16, is just starting his junior season in basketball at Foothill High in suburban Orange County, but he is already receiving letters from Duke, Davidson, Utah and other basketball powers around the country, and no wonder. Well built at 6'7", he is a good student and was his league's Player of the Year as a sophomore.
USC takes second place to Foothill with most members of the Boyd family, including wife Betty Boyd, who never misses a Foothill game. If the Trojans are playing the same night she listens to them on a portable radio.
"One night both games went into over-time, and I couldn't stand the excitement," she says. "I shut off USC."
The head of the family never shuts off USC basketball. He has time for very little else. At the start of a scouting trip a couple of years ago he picked up a paperback novel at the airport, thumbed through it on the flight and tossed it aside.
"I read a book," he announced to Betty when he got home.
"How did you like it?" she asked.
"Ridiculous," answered Bob.
Earlier this year Boyd was offered the L.A. Lakers' coaching job at a nice increase in salary. He turned it down, partly because USC upped his pay and partly because "Jimmy and my other sons wanted me to stay at USC. Jimmy's been exposed to all our sales talks, and when he heard I was just about set to take the job he ran into the house crying. 'If it's so great to be a Trojan,' he said, why become a Laker?' "
The talent on this season's USC team should be enough to keep Boyd around for at least the next three years. Junior Guard Dennis Layton scored 42 points over the weekend. Sophomore Westphal was right behind him, and sophomore Center Ron Riley pulled down 18 rebounds against Colorado. Boyd ran 10 players in and out of the games with little drop in quality.
It obviously is a very good team and it will be a lot better by the time Pacific Eight play starts in January. But it will be no catastrophe if USC fails to beat UCLA this year. Boyd gets every player except one back next season.
And, of course, young Bill Boyd will be coming along soon. If only to make it easier on his mother, he will probably be a Trojan. Recruiter Jim Hefner, who leaves little to chance, is drip, drip, dripping already.