Earlier this summer, Jay Hillock, assistant basketball coach at Loyola Marymount, was feeling low. He thought he might be getting pigeonholed as an assistant, and there were no other jobs in sight. He had applied at Florida International and didn't even make it to the interview stage.
But Monday, Hillock was happy. And a head coach again.
He was officially introduced as Paul Westhead's successor and the 19th coach at Loyola Marymount. Unlike most of the previous 18, however, he replaces the most successful coach in the school's history.
But Hillock, 41, wasn't worrying about the challenge. He was savoring a moment he thought might never come.
"It's more than ironic how things worked out," Hillock said. "I was down. There wasn't a lot of (job) movement. There were so many (Westhead job rumors) I thought maybe this one was like crying wolf. I didn't think there would be an opportunity this year. I'm elated."
Hillock received a two-year contract Monday, and met with the team as Westhead was saying goodby. He received Westhead's endorsement, appears to be unanimously accepted by the players and was introduced by the administration as the only man for the job.
"He will prove himself to be outstanding," Westhead said. "He has a great mind for the game. He has all the ingredients."
Westhead was hired by the Denver Nuggets of the NBA in the span of about 24 hours. The Nuggets held a news conference Friday morning to announce his hiring. Loyola Athletic Director Brian Quinn said Monday that he and Hillock had a handshake agreement by Friday night.
"He was my choice from Day 1," Quinn said. "He's highly respected by his peers. I always felt if Paul were to leave, Jay would be just the person. This is Paul's guy. This is who he supports for head coach at Loyola Marymount University."
Hillock, who grew up in Santa Barbara, spent four years as head coach at another West Coast Conference school, Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., before resigning to return to Southern California. He was brought in as part of newly hired Jim Lynam's Loyola staff in spring of 1985. Lynam left for the NBA before ever coaching the Lions, however, and Westhead was hired with a staff already in place.
Although Westhead and Hillock had radically different approaches to the game, they proved to be a good team. Hillock has been converted to Westhead's high-speed system, which Hillock said will essentially remain the same.
"I'm not Paul Westhead. It would be a mistake for me to try to be," Hillock said in his prepared remarks. "I am, however, committed to running and pressing every time down the court. The Lions will still be the fastest guns in the wild, wild West."
Westhead returned to Los Angeles Monday and met with the players, who described the get-together as sentimental but low-key. Although some athletes were upset when they learned of Westhead's sudden departure, everyone appeared to leave the meeting in good spirits.
"He's a class enough guy that he apologized for the way it happened," junior forward John O'Connell said. "Everybody realized it was too good an opportunity for him to turn down."
Westhead, who led the Lakers to the NBA championship in 1980, last coached in the NBA during the 1982-83 season, when his Chicago Bulls were 28-54.
Westhead said that Hank Gathers' death last March and the pending wrongful-death lawsuits in which he is a defendant weren't factors in his decision.
"It was a very complicated decision, but ultimately a simple one," he said. "I decided not to leave here for other college opportunities, but this was an NBA opportunity I couldn't turn down. (The aftermath of Gathers' death) was not a factor. That's something that's going on and I'll deal with it as it goes on."