Less than a month after he was accused of delivering an envelope of cash to the handler of a star player, USC basketball Coach Tim Floyd resigned Tuesday, abruptly ending a four-year tenure that saw him take a once-lackluster program to the cusp of national prominence.
Floyd, 55, only two months ago had USC basketball at its pinnacle. The Trojans had just made their third consecutive NCAA tournament -- a first in program history -- and had a strong nucleus of players who could return plus a recruiting class that was shaping up to be among the best in the nation.
The University of Arizona was so impressed that it courted him as its coach.
But then came the allegations last month from Louis Johnson, a man who had already accused USC's program of improprieties.
Floyd tendered his resignation in a one-paragraph letter to Athletic Director Mike Garrett, which read in part:
"I no longer feel I can offer the level of enthusiasm to my duties that is deserved by the university, my coaching staff, my players, their families, and the support of Southern Cal. I always promised myself and my family that if I ever felt I could no longer give my full enthusiasm to a job, that I should leave it to others who could."
Johnson, a onetime confidant of former Trojans basketball star O.J. Mayo, said Floyd had met Rodney Guillory, the man responsible for steering Mayo from a West Virginia high school to USC, outside a Beverly Hills cafe in February 2007, giving him at least $1,000 in $100 bills.
A year earlier, Johnson had said that Guillory had accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from a sports agency and funneled some of it in cash and gifts to Mayo, another violation of college rules.
Mayo, who recently completed a standout rookie season with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, has denied Johnson's allegations.
Floyd's resignation comes as another haymaker to a USC athletic program already under NCAA examination because of allegations involving not only Mayo, but also Heisman Trophy-winning former football star Reggie Bush.
It was more than three years ago that Bush and his family were accused of accepting about $300,000 in cash and gifts, including free rent, by two would-be sports marketers trying to secure the running back as a client.
Bush has denied wrongdoing and the NCAA has yet to sanction USC, but the school could be penalized severely, including a loss of scholarships and a ban on appearances in football bowl games and television.
Though basketball and other sports traditionally play second fiddle to the school's powerful football program, USC officials may be hoping that Floyd's resignation will serve as a "mitigating factor" for the NCAA as it considers penalties, an expert on the organization said.
"But how much it would help, I don't know," said the expert, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of his work with schools.
Garrett said in a statement that he would quickly begin the search for a new coach, adding, "I accept Tim's decision and wish him well." He made no other comment.
Floyd has mostly stayed silent the past month, but did lament the crumbling of his program during some brief remarks to The Times at a recent tour stop of USC booster organizations.
"Kansas has two players who would have been NBA lottery picks, Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, and they are returning to school," he said. "Good for them.
"Our guys get an offer from Islamabad and they're gone."
Telephone and text messages left for Floyd on Tuesday went unanswered.
USC's school policy has been not to comment on matters involving the NCAA investigation, and President Steve Sample has remained silent.
In response to The Times' inquiries, the school said recently that it had participated in interviews with nearly 50 witnesses.
But attorneys for the main accusers of Mayo and Bush say USC did not seek to directly speak to their clients.
USC spokesman Todd Dickey said in a statement Tuesday that the school was "cooperating fully" in the NCAA investigation and another by the Pacific 10 Conference "into all allegations" of rules violations.
"At this point," Dickey said, "it would be both inappropriate and premature to comment further."
The fallout from allegations against the basketball team has been a mass exodus of talent. USC lost four of its top returning players -- they elected to turn pro -- and at least three top recruits decided to play elsewhere.
"I believe Louis' information was the breaking point to whatever else USC or the NCAA already had on Floyd," Anthony V. Salerno, Johnson's attorney, said Tuesday. "I bet USC gave him [the] opportunity to quit and save face. Why wouldn't Tim Floyd put up a fight against what Louis said? He didn't even comment."
Floyd had a record of 85-50 in his four seasons at USC. The result of his resignation may not be known for some time.
The recruits who have not left the Trojans are said to be considering asking the university to release them from their commitments, including guard Lamont Jones of Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va.
USC guard Daniel Hackett, who played for Floyd the last three seasons, defended his coach, saying, "I feel like with all this speculation, Coach Floyd did a selfless act. He resigned for the sake of the program ."
Hackett said he didn't believe Floyd had anything to do with alleged payments.
Times staff writers Paul Pringle and Lance Pugmire contributed to this report.