Sandwiched between Wade Houston and Jerry Green – two of the blandest personalities in program history – the glib O'Neill quickly became known among the local media contingent as "The Quote Doctor." You never knew what he'd say but you knew it would be interesting.
Mere moments after being introduced as UT's new head man, O'Neill was asked if he thought he could recruit enough quality players to revive the program. His response:
"Jeffrey Dahmer killed and ate seventeen young men five blocks from the Marquette campus, and we did pretty good there."
That's vintage O'Neill – candid, outrageous and – most of all – quotable.
One time, when I asked why he had benched Kevin Whitted in the middle of an unusually productive performance, O'Neill deadpanned: "He didn't get much done the first half today, we sat his ass down for a while, then he played pretty well. I think that's the only thing Kevin understands. The quickest message-sender to his brain seems to be his ass."
Another time, O'Neill compared his players to a bunch of horny bar-hoppers.
"Our players try too many difficult passes," he said. "They're like the guy who hits on the prettiest girl in the bar. That's a pass that isn't going to work very often. Your chances are a lot better with the average-looking girl in the corner."
Whereas many coaches struggle for words following a lopsided loss, O'Neill regularly rose to the occasion. Following the worst home-floor defeat in UT history – a 90-50 annihilation at the hands of Kentucky in 1996 – he quipped: "We were like a guy walking through a mine field who steps on every mine."
Because he coached a deliberate, defensive-minded style of basketball, O'Neill's Vol squads were less than entertaining to watch. For instance, his offensively inept 1994-95 team lost by scores of 50-46 to Memphis, 62-47 to Florida, 68-48 to Kentucky, 74-48 to Georgia and 55-43 to Alabama.
While Vol games during the O'Neill era were somewhat boring, his post-game news conferences were downright unforgettable. That's why I devoted one chapter of my book "Hoop Tales: The Tennessee Volunteers" to him. Love him or hate him, you've got to admit: Kevin O'Neill is one colorful character.