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Remembering former USC basketball coach Bob Boyd

He was so much more than the "other" college basketball coach in town.

Unfortunately, that's the label Bob Boyd had to live with for much of his career at USC. The reason was obvious. The gentleman working his wizardry at UCLA at the time was none other than John Wooden, only the most successful coach in the history of the sport.

So Boyd, who died at age 84 on Wednesday, labored quietly and effectively for the Trojans -- much more effectively than most people realize.

The truth is, Boyd was the best USC basketball coach of the modern era, if not any era. He went 216-131 from 1967 to 1979, but that only begins to tell the story.

In 1971, he coached the finest Trojans team in school history. Led by the extraordinary Paul Westphal and Ron Riley, it went 24-2, was ranked No. 1 in the country at midseason and No. 5 at the end of the year.

The sad part was, at 24-2 it still couldn't get into the NCAA tournament. Back then, you had to win your conference title to make it in, and the only two USC losses that year happened to be at the hands of Sidney Wicks and UCLA.

In 1969, Boyd handed Wooden and the Bruins their first loss after three unbeaten years at Pauley Pavilion. He did it in the infamous "stall game," brilliantly executing a slow, controversial, hold-the-ball tempo that allowed the Trojans to upset Lew Alcindor and his No. 1 ranked team, 46-44.

It was one of only two losses Alcindor, now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, suffered in his three years at UCLA. The other was the so-called Game of the Century when Elvin Hayes and Houston beat an injured Alcindor and the Bruins in the first game played in the Houston Astrodome.

A three-year letterman and USC MVP in the early 1950s, Boyd had the fierce intensity of a former athlete and the dry sense of humor of someone who never took himself too seriously.

He took the game seriously, though. Ask those who competed against him, and they'll tell you he was a tremendous technician and student of the sport.

"I think he was an outstanding coach," said Jerry Norman, who was Wooden's top assistant at UCLA through the Alcindor era. "He understood the game, his teams were fundamentally sound and he was a great judge of talent."

Norman was on the opposing bench the night Boyd's stall tactics created the upset of the year in college basketball in 1969.

"We didn't like it very much," Norman said, "but it was the right strategy and they executed it really well."

For writers covering college basketball back then, Boyd was a refreshing change from the often stern, more conservative Wooden. He'd laugh and joke and sometimes even sit around and enjoy a beer or two with reporters, something the UCLA coach never would have done.

For me, personally, Boyd's success was always fascinating. He was the head coach at Alhambra High when I was a student there, much like my esteemed colleague Greg Katz, who arrived a few years later. Boyd not only coached basketball, but he taught P.E. at Alhambra, where I was a member of his class, something he never failed to kid me about.

"Tardy again, huh, Bisheff?" he'd say, smiling, when I showed up to get a quote from him after a game. I would just laugh and shake my head.

Boyd had that kind of easy rapport with lots of people, both on and off the basketball floor. He was a dedicated family man, but he loved to get away with his friends for a little fun. In the summer, he often could be found at Del Mar, trying to handicap horses with the same fertile mind he used to work up game plans.

Nothing compared to basketball for him, though. He not only coached it, he was consumed by it. He could never get enough. It's why, later in his career, he became the head coach at Mississippi State and eventually worked as an assistant for Dale Brown at LSU, where, Brown would confide, Boyd did most of the coaching.

In his time at USC, Boyd, who eventually was inducted into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame, sent no less than 10 players to the NBA, including Westphal and Gus Williams, a couple of All-Pros.

Those who played for him and coached with him still swear by him. Everything about Boyd, the basketball coach and the man, was first class.

The only thing wrong was his timing. He just happened to coach in the same town, at the same time, as a college basketball icon.